Budget committee outlines new hearing format

The Legislature’s joint budget committee kicked off its work Tuesday with a roster of new faces and a new budget-hearing format.

Thanks to retirements, election losses and committee shuffling last month, 10 of the 20 members on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee are new to the panel this year.

Shawn Keough
Sen. Shawn Keough

And while JFAC’s powerful co-Chair Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, are both returning, they decided to mix up the budget hearing process.

In an interview Tuesday, Keough said the Legislature’s nonpartisan budget and policy analysts will play a greater role in JFAC’s daily budget hearings.

Staffers even hauled in a new table just to accommodate the additional Legislative Services Office analysts who will be assisting JFAC this year.

Although state department and agency heads will still make budget presentations before JFAC as in years passed, their role will be diminished while the nonpartisan analysts’ role will be elevated.

“Our budget staff is going to be much more involved this year than in previous years,” Keough said. “We’re changing up the format with the goal being to make sure we’re transparent in our budget process and getting information on the budget itself out during the budget hearing.”

Keough described the new format as a work in progress, but said her and Bell’s goal is to increase transparency.

“The goal is to try to be more focused on the budget and the nuts and bolts of the budget and getting our staff involved in this part of the process,” Keough said.

So how might this look moving forward? Keough said an agency director would be invited to briefly describe that agency, what it does and what its priorities are.

Then, the time would be turned over to an analyst for a thorough financial presentation. That analyst would then summarize the agency’s current budget, how that agency spent its money this year, what its greatest needs are, what next year’s budget request is and how that money would be spent.

In the past, agency directors were afforded more flexibility and time, which sometimes resulted in wide-ranging presentations. For instance, one agency director may have chosen in past years to emphasize awards the agency won or the success of a specific program at the expense of a more thorough budget overview.

Keough said the new format is designed to give her fellow lawmakers, the public and the press a greater understanding of the mechanics of the budget.

“We still provide the agency head the opportunity to share their priorities, but it really focuses on the budget pieces of it,” Keough said.

Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra’s is scheduled to participate in the public school budget hearing on Jan. 26.

New JFAC members this year:

  • Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise.
  • Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.
  • Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland.
  • Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.
  • Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa.
  • Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville.
  • Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello.
  • Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot.
  • Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay.
  • Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.

New JFAC members this year:

  • Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise.
  • Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene.
  • Sen. Abby Lee, R-Fruitland.
  • Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise.
  • Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa.
  • Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville.
  • Sen. Mark Nye, D-Pocatello.
  • Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot.
  • Rep. Sage Dixon, R-Ponderay.
  • Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise.