Lawmakers could net small savings by holding fewer meetings
For the second consecutive year, the panel of Idaho lawmakers that sets the state budget is likely going to hold off on a meeting in June to save on state costs. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) normally holds two meetings for its 20 members when the Legislature isn’t in session. These meetings allow lawmakers to review the state’s financial situation as well as visit some places and people affected by state spending decisions. JFAC’s meetings can last several days and cost several thousand dollars in travel costs for lawmakers and legislative budget staff.
According to legislative spending figures, each meeting costs between $5,000 and $10,000 for travel costs and other expenses to bring lawmakers from across the state to JFAC’s out-of-session meetings. These meetings are held all over the state — in 2008, lawmakers met in north Idaho and in Pocatello for their two meetings. However, the meeting costs drop significantly when held in Boise, since budget staff doesn’t have to travel. The Legislative Services Office (LSO), which provides technical and administrative support to lawmakers, spent just $334 for a JFAC meeting in Boise last fall. The meetings make up a small portion of the budget for the Legislature and the LSO, which total a combined $12 million. That figure itself is less than 1 percent of the overall state budget.
“We’ve decided we would not hold a June meeting,” said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, one of the two co-chairs of JFAC. “We most likely will hold a fall meeting, unless the economy takes a dramatic turn for the worse. We feel like it’s important for us to bring the members in [and] review the numbers and where we stand.”
Cameron said he wasn’t sure whether the fall meeting would be in Boise or somewhere is in Idaho. “We do try and rotate it around and see the facilities that we have funded in the past,” he said. “We visit schools and other programs that are requesting additional funding. But it’s too early to tell whether we would hold it in Boise again or go some other place.”
There could be less committee work this summer and fall for Idaho legislators. All lawmakers are up for election this year, and no meetings are scheduled before the May 25 primary. Only one of the six interim committees listed on the Legislature’s website has a meeting scheduled; the Capital Services Committee will meet in early June. Interim committee meetings, usually in Boise, also incur travel costs. Spending reports for two committees last year, the Health Care Task Force and the Energy, Environment & Technology Interim Committee, show that each day’s meetings cost taxpayers approximately $1,000 for travel and other expenses.