BOISE, Idaho —
This article originally appeared in the Idaho Press.
Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin on Monday sent out an official news release from her office headed, "Idaho Lt. Governor Responds to Misinformation Regarding Her Budget," in which she claims, "The Lt. Governor's office budget is balanced."
Actually, as of Monday, the state Division of Financial Management estimated McGeachin's office budget has an estimated deficit of $2,067.83. McGeachin, who is running for governor, no longer has any office staff, her office doors are locked, and she has proposed to forgo her salary and benefits for the remainder of the fiscal year to make up the shortfall.
The Idaho Capital Sun reported earlier that McGeachin was notified March 11 of a projected shortfall of more than $22,000, even if she immediately halted all vendor payments for the rest of the year.
At the time, she had two staff members, including a chief of staff, Jordan Watters, and part-time administrative assistant Machele Hamilton.
"The media continues to manufacture controversy where none exists," McGeachin said in her official news release. "Our office had some unanticipated legal expenses due to the Idaho Press Club suing us because of our efforts to prevent conservative Idahoans and their children from being doxed by the media."
The Idaho Press Club filed a successful public records lawsuit against McGeachin last year after she improperly rejected public records requests from multiple Idaho reporters for thousands of public comments submitted to her task force investigating alleged leftist indoctrination in Idaho schools. McGeachin lost the lawsuit, and the court fined her $750 for "bad faith" violations of the Idaho Public Records Act, ordered her to release the documents, and ordered her to pay the Press Club's attorney fees, in the amount of $28,973.84, which she paid from her office's budget. When the comments were released, they overwhelmingly opposed the task force and its allegations.
McGeachin then requested a $50,000 supplemental appropriation, asking state lawmakers to approve additional taxpayer funds for her budget this year, for legal fees. She also hired private legal counsel to represent her in her unsuccessful defense against the lawsuit. McGeachin lowered the request to the amount of the court-ordered fees, but lawmakers never acted on it this year, leaving her office budget short. One of the smallest in state government, her budget this year was $183,100, all in state taxpayer funds.
In her news release, McGeachin wrote, "Our office has made the necessary cuts and adjustments to cover those costs, and Idaho taxpayers will not need to provide any additional funding for this office."
But in an email to McGeachin on Monday, state Division of Financial Management Administrator Alex Adams wrote, "Per your previous instruction, your preference is this deficit be taken from your salary and benefits. I wanted to update you on one concern that was raised to DFM regarding this plan."
"Section 59-501, Idaho Code, establishes the Lt. Governor’s salary in statute, and Section 27, Article V of the Constitution places some limits on the ability to diminish constitutional officer salaries mid-term," Adams wrote. "There’s an ongoing review regarding the ability to close the deficit based on these laws and the process to do so. As we work through this unprecedented situation, we will keep you apprised of any updates."
The Idaho Statesman reported over the weekend that at an April 21 campaign stop, McGeachin derided reports about her office budget shortfall as "fake news" and said, "Honestly, who cares about $2,000 … in the lieutenant governor’s budget?”
In an earlier email to Adams, directing that her salary be tapped to cover the office's shortfall, McGeachin called the move "a rather pointless formality."
According to state budget records, McGeachin's office last incurred expenses for staff hours in March.
McGeachin's official office voicemail now features a recording, saying, “Our current office hours are Tuesday and Thursdays from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.; thanks for calling.” Her office door is closed and locked; a sign on the door says, “Greetings One and All! Off Session Office Hours, Tues./Thurs 10-2 Or By Appt.,” followed by a phone number, “805-334-2200,” and in parentheses, “(If door is locked, helper stepped out for a few minutes.)”
Calls to that 805 number reach a series of recordings directing callers to “the following offers” or “a special promotion for select callers,” including, “Are you interested in saving over $500 a year on your insurance plan?” and an offer for gift cards to Walmart or Target.
The 805 area code is a California area code that serves most of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, and Ventura counties, as well as small portions of Monterey and Kern Counties. The lieutenant governor’s official office number is 208-334-2200.
McGeachin didn’t respond to a voicemail left on her office phone line. Her news release listed a contact person: Daniel Murphy, at the official office number. According to state records, Daniel Murphy is not a state employee.
McGeachin also wrote in her news release, "In a year when Gov. Little approved a budget increasing state spending by more than 20%, I remain a committed advocate of reducing the size and scope of government, consistent with our shared conservative values." Actually, the budget that the Idaho Legislature passed this year and Little, whom McGeachin is challenging in the May 17 GOP primary, signed into law, reflects a 9.5% increase in state general funds over this year, and 14.6% in total funds, including new congressionally approved infrastructure funds.
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