The 2012 Idaho legislative session was not a wonderland of greatness, but it did make one significant structural improvement over every session that had gone before: The budget panel, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, held hearings at which the public could testify.
Never before had the panel which sets the state budget taken the opinion of the general public, only of analysts and department leaders and spokesmen. The opportunity did not go ignored by the public. Two hearings pulled in about 1,500 people, astonishing turnout for a public hearing about numbers.
JFAC Co-Chair Senator Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, who was instrumental in launching the hearings, said in an Idaho Statesman article out today (paywalled), "I guess I'm in favor of openness and transparency."
Even more to the point: "It's important for them to see the face of the father with a handicapped child or the parent concerned about their child's education." In other words, to see the practical, real-world human effects of pushing those numbers around.
This year, no more public budget hearings. (Other committees do allow for public testimony, but not on the budget.)
That was the decision, evidently, of Senate President pro tem Brent Hill and new House Speaker Scott Bedke. They spoke partly of just wanting to return to the "old way" of doing things, and also of making sure that other committees set the policy - that JFAC not be driving it.
Whatever the (highly) limited merits of that, I'm going to be - at the admitted risk of doing some mind-reading - less generous.
I think they (and/or whatever caucus members pressed for the change) didn't want that "face of the father with a handicapped child or the parent concerned about their child's education" to show up, to be in front of the cameras, when the budget numbers are discussed. Idaho lowballs on its social service spending, and while that sounds good from a low-taxes and hold-the-line perspective, it sounds less good when matched against the faces of the people whose lives may be damaged by those decisions.
I don't think they want that other side of the equation to be especially visible. This session, they won't be.