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State may withhold Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s salary if she doesn’t fix budget shortfall

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin
Otto Kitsinger
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Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin at the Idaho Capitol on January 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

State controller’s office in a letter said her projected shortfall for fiscal year 2022 is about $22,000

State officials have warned Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin the state will withhold her salary if she is unable to avoid a projected budget shortfall in her office.

In a March 22 letter to McGeachin, Chief Deputy State Controller Joshua Whitworth wrote that her projected office budget shortfall for fiscal year 2022 is $22,010.68, even if her office doesn’t make any additional vendor payments or reimbursements for the rest of the year.

“As the superintendent of state funds, the Controller’s Office must advise you that you cannot spend any funds beyond your appropriation and available cash,” Whitworth wrote in the letter, which was obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun. “The state’s budget appropriation laws, and the Controller’s constitutional duties, prevent authorizing the issuance of any warrant that exceeds existing appropriations, including your Lt. Governor’s salary.”

Boise State Public Radio reporter James Dawson first reported on Whitworth’s letter on Friday.

The state of Idaho’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30 each year.

As lieutenant governor, McGeachin’s salary was set by law at 35% of the governor’s salary. That means McGeachin’s salary was about $48,405.70 for 2022.

While McGeachin faces a projected shortfall of $22,010.68, the remaining expenditures for her personal salary and benefits would be $18,642.38 for the rest of fiscal year 2022, Whitworth wrote in the March 22 letter.

McGeachin could not be reached for comment via email Monday. Nobody picked up the phone in the lieutenant governor’s office at the Idaho State Capitol on Monday, where the voicemail greeting informed callers they would be out of the office from March 28 through April 1.

McGeachin is running for governor in 2022, challenging incumbent Gov. Brad Little and a field of six others in the May 17 Republican primary for governor. The winner of the primary advances to the Nov. 8 general election.

If she is elected governor, McGeachin would be responsible for making an annual budget recommendation to the Legislature and serving as the state’s chief executive with oversight of the approximately $4.5 billion state general fund budget.

Idaho lieutenant governor’s budget shortfall stems from McGeachin losing a public records lawsuit

State officials have been warning McGeachin, her former chief of staff and legislative budget writers about the projected budget shortfall for almost a month. On March 11, Idaho Division of Financial Management deputy administrator David Fulkerson emailed McGeachin to warn her of a projected shortfall, which he calculated at about $22,000, records previously obtained by the Sun show.

The shortfall comes after District Court Judge Steven Hippler ordered McGeachin in 2021 to pay court costs and fees to the Idaho Press Club after McGeachin lost a lawsuit over public records related to her 2021 education task force.

Reporters at several Idaho news organizations, including the Sun, had requested public comments left through McGeachin’s website about the task force. McGeachin declined to release the records, and the records her office did release were blacked out and covered by boxes that included the word “REDACTED.”

After McGeachin declined to release the public records, the Idaho Press Club filed suit and won.

Hippler ruled McGeachin acted in bad faith, and he ordered her to pay the Idaho Press Club $28,973.84 in fees and court costs. State records indicate the state paid the Idaho Press Club via a check on Oct. 29.

McGeachin submitted a supplemental funding request to pay for the legal fees, saying she could not afford to pay out of her office’s budget. However, the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee never acted on McGeachin’s supplemental funding request during the just-completed 2022 session.

During a March 17 press conference, McGeachin said it was the press that ultimately cost Idaho taxpayers that money.

But the Idaho Attorney General’s Office had previously put out a statement saying it was McGeachin’s own decision to stop working with the Attorney General’s Office and instead hire her own private attorney that cost the taxpayers’ money.

“Attorney-client privilege precludes us from discussing the specifics of our counsel at this point,” the Oct. 14 statement from the Idaho Attorney General Office read, in part. “However, the lawsuit, the lieutenant governor’s loss in court and the subsequent financial burden Idaho taxpayers now face all resulted from independent decisions made by the lieutenant governor in consultation with her chosen attorney after June 7.”

“The entire matter is an excellent demonstration of why government should seek legal counsel that it needs to hear, instead of what it wants to hear,” the Idaho Attorney General’s Office statement added.