Janice McGeachin at budget hearing

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin at her office’s budget hearing at the state Capitol on Jan. 20, 2021, before the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.

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BOISE — When Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin came up for her budget hearing before lawmakers on Wednesday, she was questioned about her contract with Parrish Miller, an analyst and writer for the Idaho Freedom Foundation, and asked for details of that contract and how it relates to keeping vacant a funded position in her office.

“I don’t know that it’s appropriate to be naming out individuals and companies,” McGeachin responded, when questioned by Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise. “We do have a contractual agreement which has been in place since 2019.”

According to state budget records, McGeachin has paid Miller nearly $22,000 to date for professional services, web hosting and other expenses.

Several members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee noted that McGeachin has a vacant position in her office that’s funded in her budget — one of three positions in total, the only one other than herself and her chief of staff — and questioned whether she needs to keep that in her budget.

McGeachin said, “Because we are small, we have such a small budget. … We do not have our own in-house information technology. As an example, the first day I showed up, when I was elected, I didn’t even have a working computer. So we have to outsource some of those services that are not available in our own office.”

Ward-Engelking said, “I guess I’m concerned about a conflict of interest in using taxpayer dollars to hire a policy analyst for the Idaho Freedom Foundation.”

McGeachin said, “I am happy to have a discussion with you about that. This individual is a duly constructed LLC in the state of Idaho who provides services to a number of individuals and organizations.”

According to state records, McGeachin’s office has an $800 per month contract with Miller, but also has made additional payments to him. In fiscal year 2019, her office paid him $4,150. In fiscal year 2020, it paid him $12,596.25. In the current year to date, which started July 1, her office has paid him $5,011. That comes to a total of $21,757.25.

The lieutenant governor’s office budget is $182,100, all in state general funds, this year; for next year, her request is for $184,900. McGeachin told JFAC that as a constitutional officer, she was not required to comply with the governor’s budget holdbacks, but that like other constitutional officers, she did so voluntarily.

“In fiscal year 2020 we had unspent funds in our budget of 9.8% and we were able to accomplish these savings of taxpayer dollars primarily through lower travel costs,” she said, “like many of you probably have stayed pretty close to home this past year. We had lower miscellaneous costs and no capital expenditures in our office. We use recycled binders that are donated to our office.”

She said, “I have given my chief of staff a cost of living increase in the current budget. He is a hard-working young man. He does a lot for me.”

According to the state controller’s “Transparent Idaho” site, the current salary for McGeachin’s chief of staff is just over $45,000 per year.

After the budget hearing, McGeachin said, “We operate very efficiently and are very lean within our budget, within our office, and I think the emphasis should be more on that than questioning who we do bring in or who we choose to help us with some of those duties.”

Ward-Engelking said, “We’ve looked at that and she had that vacant position, so we asked … to look into it.”

Then, she said, “We realized she had that contract for personnel instead.”

“I was concerned about the ethics of it,” said the 5th-term state senator, adding, “It’s probably legal what she’s doing.”

She noted that the state does provide information technology services to agencies.

The Idaho Freedom Foundation is a nonprofit free-market “think tank” that’s heavily involved in advocating for legislation and public policy in Idaho, including lobbying the Legislature; the group’s website says it “exists to advance conservative principles.” It has an arm called “Idaho Freedom Action,” a 501c4 nonprofit that is active in political campaigns. IFF lists Miller as its “Idaho Freedom Index Analyst.”

Miller’s LinkedIn site says he is self-employed at “Design by Parrish,” offering “professional websites and digital marketing: Specializing in campaign consultation, social media optimization, email management, web hosting, and design for your graphics, logos, business cards, postcards, mailers, fliers, event programs, political signs, and more!’’

Dustin Hurst, IFF spokesman, said, “Parrish actually probably saved taxpayers money, which is admirable, and the outrage is unfounded, it’s nonsensical. … Parrish is a private contractor for the Idaho Freedom Foundation and he’s a private contractor for the lieutenant governor.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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