Steve Bair

Bair

A Blackfoot lawmaker will help lead the committee that sets the state’s budget next year.

Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, along with Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, will head the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. Both were on the committee before, and Youngblood was a vice chairman. Both chairmanships were open due to the retirements of former chairwomen Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome and Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint.

Other eastern Idahoans on JFAC are Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who will be a vice chairwoman, Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, and newcomer Rep. Britt Raybould, R-Rexburg.

“It will be an honor and a challenge, but there are great committee members, and a wonderful process that enables us to set budgets using wisdom and good common sense,” Bair said. “And as we use that process for setting budgets and evaluating agency needs, we can get there, but it’s never easy. It’s always somewhat contentious.”

The Legislature held its organizational session Thursday and Friday, voting on party leadership positions and setting committee assignments. The 2019 session starts Jan. 7.

Bair has been on JFAC for about a decade.

“I had the opportunity and I think I’m somewhat prepared, and so it’s a great honor to try and … set those budgets for all those state agencies,” he said.

One of the biggest issues for the committee, as it is every year, will be education funding. Public schools take up almost half of the state’s general fund spending, more if you add colleges and universities. The state also is considering rewriting its public schools funding formula.

“We’re going to keep our commitment to providing more dollars for education as our revenues allow us,” Bair said.

The committee also must grapple with how to pay for Medicaid expansion, assuming lawmakers decide to move ahead with it and if a pending lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 2 fails. Lawmakers could refuse to implement or fund the initiative, although numerous key lawmakers and governor-elect Brad Little have said they intend to implement it.

Bair said he expects the first year of expansion — which will only cover half of a state fiscal year — will cost about $20 million. He said the first full year of expansion will cost the state about $40 million, and that it will increase to almost $60 million by the 10th year.

Another issue, Bair said, is state revenue has been coming in lower than expected. The state collected $34 million less in October than had been expected, largely due to a decline in individual income tax receipts, and about $15 million less in November, according to the state Division of Financial Management.

“That’s got to be factored in,” Bair said. “And that’s a big deal, that’s a lot of money.”

Due to retirements and upsets in the Republican primaries in May, eastern Idaho is now represented by eight new lawmakers, plus one, Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, who moved from the House to the Senate. Their committee assignments, according to the Idaho Press, are:

• Rep. Gary Marshall, R-Idaho Falls: Agricultural Affairs; Education; Judiciary, Rules and Administration.

• Rep. Jerald Raymond, R-Menan: Agriculture; Business; Education.

• Raybould: Appropriations; Environment, Energy and Technology; Resources and Conservation.

• Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby: Business; Environment, Energy and Technology; Revenue and Taxation.

• Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon: Commerce and Human Resources; Health and Welfare; Local Government.

• Rep. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg: Judiciary; Revenue and Taxation; Transportation.

• Rep. Julianne Young, R-Blackfoot: State Affairs; Environment, Energy and Technology; Judiciary.

• Sen Dave Lent, R-Idaho Falls: Agriculture; Education.

• Burtenshaw: Finance; Health and Welfare; Transportation.

Marshall and Lent both come from education backgrounds — Lent has been on the Idaho Falls School District 91 board for years, and Marshall spent his career as a teacher and administrator in Idaho Falls schools and at Brigham Young University-Idaho. They said about a week ago they wanted to be on the Education committees. Raybould got all three of the committee spots that she said she had been hoping for. Her grandfather Dell Raybould, who didn’t run for re-election this year, was chairman of Environment, Energy and Technology before, and she said that committee is particularly important for this part of the state since it oversees Idaho National Laboratory-related issues.

Rep. Bryan Zollinger, R-Idaho Falls, remains on the Health and Welfare, Judiciary and Local Government committees, and Rep. Barabra Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, remains on the Education, Environment and Judiciary committees. Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, will still be the Senate president pro tempore and will also continue to serve on the State Affairs and Local Government committees. Anderson will remain on the Commerce and Environment committees in addition to Appropriations. In addition to co-chairing JFAC Bair will remain on the Resources and Environment Committee, although not as its chairman.

Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, will continue to head the Education Committee. He is no longer on the Finance Committee but will be on the Agriculture and Resources and Environment committees instead. Horman is now vice-chairwoman of House Appropriations and will keep her spot on Environment, Energy and Technology in addition. She no longer will be on Commerce and Human Resources.

Sen. Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, will stay on the Agriculture and Health and Welfare committees but is now on State Affairs instead of Transportation. Rep. Marc Gibbs, R-Grace, is staying on the Resources and Conservation Committee but will now be on Health and Welfare in addition rather than Revenue and Taxation.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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