Gov. Brad Little, who has taken a meat cleaver to thousands of pages of administrative rules and regulations, is now taking a closer look at budgets.
He has told state agency heads, not associated with public schools, that they must cut their current-year budgets by 1 percent, then chop off another 2 percent for the coming year.
“We do not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem,” says Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. “As conservatives, we appreciate reductions in the size and scope, and spending of government. This is a good step in the right direction.”
McGeachin will be taking budget cutting a few more steps. With direction from the governor, she is leading a 14-member statewide commission on an 18-month mission that is looking for ways to make state government more efficient. She’s getting help from two conservative legislators who are more than happy to dive into the weeds of the state budget – Rep. Judy Boyle of Midvale and Sen. Mark Harris of Soda Springs.
McGeachin, who billed herself as the “conservative candidate” for the office in 2018, will have an opportunity to show that conservativism is more than a campaign slogan – and that the lieutenant governor’s position is not just a quiet part-time job.
McGeachin says the task is in her wheelhouse. She’s a longtime business operator, owns a restaurant in Idaho Falls (the chicken wings are awesome) and has degrees in finance and accounting. During her legislative days, she served on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee and chaired the House Health and Welfare Committee – so she has an idea where some of the budgetary bones are buried.
“This goes with the general theme of the governor wanting to make government work better,” McGeachin says. “Our state is growing, and we can’t afford to live in yesterday when maybe there was a more casual attitude about money being spent within each agency. At first, I thought 18 months was too long, and now I’m wondering if 18 months is enough.”
As Boyle sees it, “Having an overview such as this is long overdue. I don’t know when anything like this was done … maybe during the Batt administration.”
Some of the early work has focused on the low-hanging fruit, such as building spaces, subscription costs and auto fleets.
“We have been compiling data on buildings owned and leased by the state – along with the valuation of buildings and maintenance costs,” McGeachin said. The commission will make recommendations on utilization of office space, and in some cases, consolidation.
Looking at the auto-fleet management, a few things have surfaced, McGeachin says. “The vehicle in the Industrial Commission has been used only 29 days out of the year and the tax commission has used its vehicle only 59 days out of the year. It makes no sense for agencies to have these vehicles sitting in the parking lot when maybe we can pay to rent a car for a day.”
These are relatively small items relative to the entire state budget, but they add up. McGeachin says she’s generally getting cooperation from the state agencies, although in some cases people are being “volentold” to help.
“That means they are volunteering to do it, but also being told to do it,” McGeachin says. “Some of this work needs to be driven, because some agencies have been used to operating in their own silo. Our job is to stand with them and help them understand they are part of the solution. We’re not trying to run anybody out of their jobs, or shut down programs, but we need their help and ideas of how we can do things better.”
We’ll see what happens in the coming months. McGeachin’s success as the lieutenant governor may well be measured by the quality of the recommendations coming from her commission.
Chuck Malloy, a long-time Idaho journalist, is a columnist with Idaho Politics Weekly. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.