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Nampa Sen. Agenbroad named to key legislative chairmanship

Agenbroad had been the Senate vice-chair of the 20-member joint committee.

BOISE, Idaho — Both co-chairmanships of the joint committee that sets the state budget will now be held by lawmakers from Nampa, after Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, was appointed to the Senate co-chairmanship on Tuesday.

Agenbroad, who previously had served as the Senate vice-chair of the key joint committee, will succeed Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, who is stepping down from the chairmanship and taking a leave from the Senate “because of family issues and things he’s dealing with,” Senate President Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said Tuesday.

Winder told the Idaho Press that Bair is appointing a substitute to fill in for him in the Senate while he’s out, former state Rep. Julie van Orden, R-Pingree. “We don’t know how long yet,” Winder said. “Because of his family needs, he has been able to get her to come serve.”

Agenbroad had been the Senate vice-chair of the 20-member joint committee. Winder also announced Tuesday that Sen. Carl Crabtree, R-Grangeville, has been appointed to Senate vice-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

JFAC consists of the Senate Finance Committee and the House Appropriations Committee, whose chairman is Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa. The influential joint committee sets the state budget; the budget bills it writes and approves then go to both houses for votes and to the governor for signature before they become law.

There is precedent for two lawmakers from the same area to co-chair the panel: For years, two Magic Valley legislators, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, and Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, were the co-chairs.

“Ultimately, we have a committee that does represent far more than just Nampa,” Agenbroad said, adding that he believes “the chairman is only as good as their committee anyway, and I think we have a phenomenal committee.”

“I think there’s thoughtfulness that we’re certainly serving our districts and our communities, but we’re also serving the state,” he said.

Agenbroad said he never heard any suggestion that Cameron and Bell were “stacking the deck in the Magic Valley, if you will, so I think there’s precedence that it can work and has worked. And I look forward to working with Co-Chairman Youngblood.”

He noted, “This session’s going to be a little more challenging, because we are dealing with a large surplus, and with that comes a lot of asks that we’ll have to sort through.”

The Legislative Council on Tuesday reviewed the extent of the state’s anticipated surplus, which legislative Budget Director Keith Bybee described as a “boatload” of cash.

“The coffers are full,” Bybee told the council, a joint committee of legislators that oversees legislative matters between sessions. “‘Boatload’ would be the kind of correct description of the kind of cash we have right now.”

Already, he reported, state general fund revenues are running $781 million more than they were expected to at the close of this year’s legislative session, for a total overage beyond appropriations of $889 million. That is “the surplus generated by revenues alone,” Bybee said, and doesn’t include huge balances in the state’s rainy-day funds or giant infusions of federal aid.

“I think ‘historic’ is underselling how much money that is, in the context of what our budget is, what we looked like,” Bybee said.

Lawmakers this year transferred $244 million into state rainy-day funds, Bybee said, in an “amazing set-aside of cash for rainy days.” But even that grew, to $284 million, because the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund law requires automatic transfers to the rainy-day fund in years when state general funds revenues grow by more than 4%.

That brought the rainy-day fund to a historic high, with a current balance of $677.7 million, he said. The stabilization fund is capped at 15% of the previous year’s general fund revenues, but because revenues have risen so much, it’s now only at 13.5% and isn’t hitting the cap.

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, asked, between the surplus and state reserves, how much cash the state has on hand. Bybee said it comes to roughly $1.96 billion. “That’s 46.5% of 2022 original appropriations,” he said. By comparison, when Idaho carried substantial balances and savings into the 2008 recession, it had about $650 million, which was 22.7% of original appropriations for fiscal year 2009. 

“A cash-flush position is a way to describe that,” Bybee said.

Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said he worried about a sudden drop in state finances when all the federal aid stops flowing and “the federal government spigot gets turned off.”

Winder asked, “Are we going to fall off a cliff at some point, or are we going to have fairly stable incomes or revenue because of all the other growth that’s occurring as a state?”

The state’s economic indicators, from state revenues to low unemployment to population growth, continue to be strong, Bybee said.

Paul Headlee, deputy legislative services director, noted that even beyond the billion-plus federal American Rescue Plan Act funds Idaho is receiving, nearly all of which hasn’t yet been spent, the state will be receiving federal funding through the newly passed infrastructure bill through 2027.

Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, said, “If we’re investing in our state, in infrastructure, roads, rail, etc, and we’re experiencing growth, I don't think we’re going to fall off a cliff.”

Agenbroad said JFAC will work with the Legislature’s germane committees to determine how to handle the unprecedented funds, from the strong state revenues to rainy-day funds to the federal aid. “We’ll be looking to invest this coming year, and make long-term investments for the betterment of Idaho citizens,” he said. “Not only do we have short-term needs that have to be addressed within this year’s budget, but we’ll be … focused on the long-term investments in Idaho, with the federal moneys that have come into the state.”

Agenbroad, who has served five years in the Idaho Senate, said he understands most JFAC co-chairs had longer legislative experience before taking on the co-chairmanship. “I’m just humbled and blessed to have the confidence of the Senate leadership to serve in this role,” he said. “It certainly fits with my education and my experience in life as a banker and as a businessman, so I look forward to playing my part and continuing to follow our constitutional mandates, which is providing balanced budgets and working on behalf of the citizens.” 

More from our partners at the Idaho Press: Legislative committee maintains governor's $54,600-per-year housing stipend

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