Idaho Legislature’s budget panel OKs McGeachin budget, with her legal costs in limbo

The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee set Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin’s 2023 budget on Friday without addressing her $29,000 supplemental funding request to cover legal fees from a public records lawsuit last year. 

With very little discussion, JFAC voted 18-0 to approve $202,200 in state general fund money for McGeachin’s 2023 budget. 

McGeachin has requested $29,000 in supplemental funding to cover legal costs that District Judge Steven Hippler ordered her to pay to the Idaho Press Club after she lost a public records lawsuit. 

After Friday’s JFAC meeting, Sen. Peter Riggs, R-Post Falls, said there are still discussions about how to handle the $29,000 supplemental request, but there was agreement to move forward with the 2023 budget, which does not include the supplemental.

“No matter what happens with the supplemental request, it is separate from the agency request we set for the execution of the office itself,” Riggs told the Idaho Capital Sun. “While there is still ongoing discussion about the best way to handle a potential supplemental appropriation, we wanted to make sure that we could finish our traditional budget setting calendar, which included this.”

“We’ve got the lieutenant governor’s budget taken care of, now we just need to finish figuring out what, if anything, to do on the supplemental request,” Riggs added. 

The fees stem from a 2021 lawsuit the Idaho Press Club filed after McGeachin refused to release public records related to her education task force. Journalists from several news organizations, including the Idaho Capital Sun and Idaho Education News, requested the records. 

McGeachin lost the suit and was ordered to release the records and pay the Idaho Press Club’s attorney fees of $28,973.84. 

The records in question were public comments about McGeachin’s education task force that she solicited on her website. When McGeachin released the records per Hippler’s order, they showed the overwhelming majority of 3,602 comments pushed back against McGeachin’s claims of indoctrination in public schools or voiced support for public schools and teachers.  

The legal fees and $29,000 supplemental funding request were not on Friday’s agenda and did not come up during JFAC’s meeting. State records from the Division of Financial Management show the state issued a check on Oct. 29 for the Idaho Press Club’s $28,973.84 attorney fees, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported. 

McGeachin has previously said she would not be able to cover the $29,000 out of her office’s budget and might have to furlough her staff if she didn’t have enough funding. The state’s budget year runs until June 30. 

The Sun requested comment from McGeachin’s office about the supplemental funding request and status of her budget on Friday morning and did not immediately receive a response. 

JFAC finished writing state budgets on Friday and adjourned subject to the call of chairmen Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, and Sen. Jeff Agenboard, R-Nampa.

“We have now set all of the scheduled appropriations budgets, that’s the good news,” Agenbroad said at the end of Friday’s meeting. “The bad news is our work isn’t over. We still have a few things under consideration.” 

Rep. Colin Nash, D-Boise, told the Sun that JFAC cannot act on the $29,000 supplemental funding request unless the committee chairmen call another meeting and place the $29,000 supplemental request on an agenda. Legislators are not required to act on the request, but they may.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Idaho Capital Sun maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Christine Lords for questions: [email protected] Follow Idaho Capital Sun on Facebook and Twitter.

 

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