Idaho analyst alters budget bill language ‘during internal review’ without OK of JFAC co-chairs

JFAC committee room at the Idaho State Capitol
JFAC committee room at the Idaho State Capitol

The door to the JFAC committee room at the Idaho State Capitol building is pictured on Jan. 6, 2023. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)

An unelected bill drafter working for the state appears to have altered budget intent language without the knowledge of several members of the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee or its co-chairmen. 

The change, which appears to be highly unusual for the state’s budgeting process, occurred in legislation relating to the state’s permanent building fund and improvements to the state-owned office campus located on Chinden Boulevard in Boise.

The change happened between March 13, when JFAC voted to set the fiscal year 2025 budget for the Department of Administration’s permanent building fund, and March 22, when the budget was introduced to the Idaho House as House Bill 735.

Improvements to the state’s Chinden Boulevard campus are also caught up in the ongoing legislative debate over blocking the $51 million sale of a different state owned property – the former headquarters of the Idaho Transportation Department – on State Street in Boise.

Idaho budget analyst takes responsibility for changes in intent language

In interviews Thursday at the Idaho State Capitol, Keith Bybee, a division manager for the Idaho Legislative Services Office’s budget and policy division, took responsibility for authorizing the change. Bybee also said he should have brought the change to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

Keith Bybee, a division manager for Idaho's Legislative Services Office
Keith Bybee, a division manager for Idaho's Legislative Services Office

Keith Bybee, a division manager for Idaho’s Legislative Services Office, is a budget and policy analyst for the Legislature. (Courtesy of Idaho in Session)

“During the review and editing process, the language adopted by the committee was edited to make the section of the bill functional and also reflect the intent of the committee,” Bybee wrote in a written statement to the Idaho Capital Sun on Thursday. “In hindsight, I should have brought the edit to the co-chair’s attention for them to decide whether committee corrective action was necessary to adjust language found in House Bill 735.”

Bybee described the change as a small technical correction made to eliminate language approved by JFAC on March 13 that included references to incorrect sections of Idaho law. Bybee said the change still reflects the intentions of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee without having to formally go back to the committee to ask for a correction.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is a powerful legislative committee that sets each element of the state budget.

“In order to meet what the committee’s intent was, this was the way to do it,” Bybee told the Sun after Thursday afternoon’s JFAC meeting. Bybee also said committee rules allow for changes of “ministerial effect” during the proofreading and editing process. The Merriam Webster online dictionary defines ministerial as having to do with the functions of an administrative office. 

An email sent by a different Idaho Legislative Services Office budget analyst that was obtained by the Idaho Capital Sun indicates the change to the budget intent language was made not during a public meeting but “during internal review.”

“The change was made in internal review as it was simpler to repeal the original language regarding the ITD headquarters, rather than repurpose, to meet the committee’s intent,” Legislative Services Office budget and policy analyst Frances Lippitt wrote in an email sent Monday to Division of Financial Management principal analyst David Hahn that was obtained by the Sun. 

Lippitt’s email did not specify that Bybee made the change.

JFAC’s two co-chairs, Sen. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, and Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, said Thursday they were unaware of the change Bybee authorized until after the Idaho Capital Sun started asking about the change.

Horman said that after the Sun pointed out the issue, Horman asked Bybee if this has ever happened before.

“This is the first time that I have ever heard of this happening. That language we approved was different than in the bill,” Horman told the Sun. 

Horman said if she had known about the need for a change to the intent language, she would have brought the proposed change back to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee to consider or vote on during an open public meeting.  

Instead, the Idaho House voted 51-17 to pass House Bill 735 on Wednesday with the change included. In addition to Horman and Grow, two other JFAC members – Reps. Matthew Bundy, R-Mountain Home, and Brooke Green, D-Boise, also told the Sun on Thursday they were not aware that any changes were made to budget intent language in House Bill 735.

Then, on Thursday, the Idaho Senate sent House Bill 735 to the Senate State Affairs Committee where the committee held the permanent building fund budget – potentially killing House Bill 735 for the year. 

Altered budget language relates to state-owned Chinden Boulevard campus

The issue with the language Bybee changed pertains to improvements legislators authorized for the Chinden Boulevard office park the state owns. 

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During the 2022 session, Idaho legislators passed House Bill 779, which included a section of budget intent language, Section 9, that called for relocating the Idaho Transportation Department from its former State Street headquarters to Chinden Boulevard. 

However, this year, JFAC is working to block the sale of the State Street campus. On March 1, JFAC passed a budget that called for the Idaho Transportation Department to renovate the State Street campus, not relocate to Chinden Boulevard. JFAC also revoked the state’s authority to sell the State Street campus.  

Then on March 13, JFAC set the permanent building fund budget and approved language that Bybee subsequently changed without the JFAC co-chair’s knowledge. On March 13, JFAC members voted to approve budget intent language that called for repurposing the improvements to Chinden Boulevard campus so that any state tenant – not specifically the Idaho Transportation Department – could move in. 

The language specifically states: “Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 9, Chapter 256, Laws of 2022, and any other provision of law to the contrary, the $37,000,000 appropriated to the Department of Administration for the Division of Public Works from the Permanent Building Fund for Chinden Campus improvements shall be used to prepare Building 3 for occupancy by state tenants and to renovate common core spaces throughout the campus.”

However, Bybee said the March 13 language references the wrong section of law from 2022 – Section 9 does not specifically mention $37 million, but Section 7 does. Bybee also said the 2022 law itself also includes an inaccurate reference to Section 4.

In an effort to clean things up, Bybee left JFAC’s March 13 language out of House Bill 735 and replaced the language JFAC approved with language repealing the section of the 2022 law that called for the Idaho Transportation Department to relocate from State Street to Chinden Boulevard. Bybee said his change eliminated problems with inaccurate sections of law. 

But Horman said Bybee making the change himself was unusual. Instead of a bill drafter or analyst making the change during internal review, the change should have been brought forward in an open meeting of JFAC as a proposed technical correction for JFAC to take official action on. There have been several other examples this year where JFAC members did make changes to budgets the committee previously approved via subsequent technical corrections. Horman said that should have happened in this case. 

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