BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Legislature’s budget committee on Wednesday approved a proposed law requiring that about $2.2 billion coming to Idaho from the latest round of federal coronavirus rescue money must be approved by lawmakers before being spent by state agencies.
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted 14-5 to approve the measure that will also require the approval of the House, Senate and Republican Gov. Brad Little to become law.
Lawmakers were angered that Little spent previous federal rescue money without their input.
Congress approved the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act, also known as ARPA, last month. Idaho is getting about $5.3 billion, including $2.1 billion in direct payments to people and businesses.
Of the remaining $3.2 billion, about $2.2 billion would require the Legislature’s approval.
Counties are getting $347 million. Nine of Idaho’s largest cities — Boise, Caldwell, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls, Lewiston, Meridian, Nampa, Pocatello and Twin Falls — will divvy up $125 million. Another 191 smaller cities will split $104 million, with distribution based on population.
Another $126 million of the discretionary funds are for capital projects defined as enabling work, education and health monitoring.
Democratic Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking voted against the measure, saying she had concerns the Legislature would move too slowly to allocate the rescue money during an emergency.
Republican Rep. Ron Nate also voted against the measure, partly out of concern about Idaho accepting federal money.
But most committee members said the Legislature should play a role in spending the money, which can be distributed over the next several years.
The Legislature is expected to wrap up business this month, though it's not clear if lawmakers will adjourn or simply recess so they can call themselves back into session. The Legislature would have to be in session to approve budget bills stemming from the $2.2 billion in rescue money.
“We should be very thoughtful and look at the immediate needs and how we've already addressed them, make sure that before we leave that we're addressing the immediate needs,” Republican Sen. Jeff Agenbroad said. “I think it's good policy to set the balance of the money aside given that we don't know what the future is going to look like, and most of the ARPA dollars are available to us for multiple years.”
Budget bills, when passed by the House and Senate, must be approved by Little.
Little in a March 18 news conference said he wanted the state to be deliberative in spending about $2.2 billion. He said he would work with the Legislature to find projects that will benefit future generations of Idaho residents who will have to pay off the federal debt.
He also said the federal funding should be used for one-time expenses and not to create ongoing obligations that would eventually shift to the state's general fund.
This story has been corrected to show the vote was 14-5, not 15-4.