State Sen. Jeff Agenbroad’s recent attack in the Idaho Press Tribune on the Idaho Freedom Foundation’s policy and appropriation bill reviews doesn’t reflect any change in our scores or tactics, but rather his problematic voting record.
And he doesn’t like our drawing attention to his voting record that demonstrates he is a big spender who has voted to grow state government dramatically.
Let’s share some facts about Agenbroad’s votes.
When Agenbroad started in the Legislature in 2017, Idaho’s all-funds budget appropriation was $7.9 billion for Fiscal Year 2018 (FY18). For FY23, the appropriations that Agenbroad voted for total $12.9 billion. That is a 63.3% increase in 5 years.
He claims he isn’t a spendthrift, which would be credible if he voted against budget bills. But Agenbroad rarely votes against budget bills. He has served on the Joint Finance and Appropriation Committee (JFAC) since his first day in office. JFAC developed the budgets that he voted for. So unless a 10.3% compounded annual spending increase for the last five years is fiscally conservative, it would seem that IFF’s criticism of Agenbroad’s voting record is on point.
One of the biggest drivers of the huge growth in spending has been the Medicaid budget. Agenbroad voted for the FY18 appropriation of $2.285 billion and for the FY23 appropriation of $4.045 billion, a 77% increase in five years and a staggering compounded annual increase of 12.1%. And he voted for every Medicaid budget increase each year.
Perhaps one of the reasons that Agenbroad says he detected a change in “IFF’s behavior” three years ago is because in 2019 we started our Spending Index as another measurement tool. Whereas the Freedom Index reviews bills regarding regulation and policy, the Spending Index only measures appropriation bills, a critical component of Agenbroad’s record as a member of JFAC that he now co-chairs.
For the 2019 session, Agenbroad’s Spending Index score of 7.1% tied for the lowest in the Senate. It improved slightly to 8.7% in 2020, putting him right next to Senate Democrat Minority Leader Michelle Stennett’s 8%. For 2021, Agenbroad tied for last again. And finally, the senator’s dismal 4.5% in 2022 put him ahead of only one Senate Democrat.
In short, he votes for nearly every budget no matter how large, including ones that any reasonable Republican might find objectionable like bloated Medicaid budgets or higher education budgets that fund social justice programs at Idaho colleges.
It's fair to say Agenbroad’s budget votes are indistinguishable from those cast by Senate Democrats.
This matters because Idaho could remove the sales tax on groceries and offer broad property tax relief with more restrained spending growth. We could go beyond slightly reducing the top income tax rate, which was the only major tax relief from the 2022 session.
In 2021, Agenbroad voted for Senate Bill 1204, the bill that accepted federal American Rescue Plan Act money. It says, “ARPA funds are borrowed from our grandchildren. To the extent allowable under law, the state should make long-range investments with ARPA funds that will benefit our grandchildren.”
Notwithstanding the language Agenbroad voted for with this bill, he voted in the 2022 session to use ARPA funds for bonuses with SB1404 and for arts grants with SB1391. Borrowing money from our grandchildren to fund bonuses and arts projects hardly sounds like long-range investments. And it’s certainly not conservative.
You see, until IFF started reviewing the records of legislators vote by vote, politicians like Agenbroad could make any claims they wanted because they defined themselves on the campaign trail as they saw fit.
Agenbroad believes IFF, in disclosing his voting record, is bullying him simply because he doesn’t want his constituents to know the details of the thousands of votes he has cast.
Unfortunately the votes are cast, his record is open for review, and he can no longer cover his tracks, thanks to the Idaho Freedom Foundation and its supporters.
Fred Birnbam serves as the Legislative Affairs Director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation. Budget bills referenced in his piece can be reviewed at IdahoSpendingIndex.com.