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Budget crunch may mean McGeachin has to work for free

Janice McGeachin for governor
James Dawson
/
Boise State Public Radio
Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, right, shortly before greeting a crowd on the steps of the Idaho Capitol in Boise as she announces her bid for governor in 2022.

Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin may have to work for free through the end of the fiscal year due to a projected budget shortfall brought on by her private legal fees.

In a letter from Chief Deputy Controller General Joshua Whitworth to McGeachin on March 22, he predicts her office will run a $22,000 deficit – even if she halts all vendor payments.

That’s a higher estimate than what waspreviously projected by the Idaho Department of Financial Management.

“The state’s budget appropriation laws, and the Controller’s constitutional duties, prevent authorizing the issuance of any warrant that exceeds existing appropriation, including your Lt. Governor’s salary,” Whitworth wrote.

As of March 22, McGeachin’s salary and benefits remaining for the rest of the fiscal year, which ends June 30, totaled $18,642.

Boise State Public Radio obtained the letter through a public records request. McGeachin, who’s challenging Gov. Brad Little in next month’s Republican primary, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

The lieutenant governor formerly had two employees in her office.

Jordan Watters, her former chief of staff,gave notice of his resignation last week. Her part-time administrative assistant is also no longer with the office, according to Whitworth.

It’s unclear how much money both staffers' absence will save in salary and benefit costs.

“The salary and benefits of employees for time worked is a priority to be paid from the remaining personnel funds in your appropriation,” Whitworth wrote in the letter.

The budget crunch stems from McGeachin’s decision to hire a private attorney to fight a lawsuit brought by the Idaho Press Club last year.

That’s after the attorney general’s office advised her to release public records related to her education indoctrination task force, which she refused to do.

As Boise State Public Radio previously reported, Judge Steven Hippler found McGeachin’s arguments that the comments were privileged communication to be “frivolous” and that her office acted “in bad faith” in responding to the records request.

Sections of state and federal law her office cited as reasons to exempt disclosure of the records include those regarding trade secrets, executive privilege, fish and game license and investigations conducted by the Idaho Human Rights Commission.

The exemptions Watters gave “were so irrelevant,” Hippler wrote, that it appeared he “may have blindly selected them at random.”

McGeachin initially estimated her private legal costs to be $50,000but reduced that amount earlier this year to $29,000.

The Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee declined to cover those expenses as she requested. Lawmakers adjourned for the year on Thursday.

Her actions over the lawsuit earned her theSociety for Professional Journalists’ annual Black Hole Award for “acts of outright contempt of the public’s right to know.”

McGeachin accused the media of wasting public money by bringing the lawsuit in the first place.

“It’s the press that actually cost taxpayer dollars,”she told Idaho Education News. “They could have simply agreed to pay the fee, which is also prescribed in the law.”

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

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I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!