The 20-member Joint Finance Appropriations Committee, arguably the most powerful committee in the Idaho Legislature, set up shop in Ketchum on Tuesday as part of a twice-annual tour of regions throughout the state.
"It gives us an opportunity to see how we've put taxpayer dollars to use," said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, the committee's co-chair. "We can see whether we could have done it better."
Cathy Holland-Smith, the Legislature's budget division manager, said the field visits are required by Idaho Code.
"They're statewide, and they enable the legislators to understand issues in other regions (than their own)," she said.
The committee's Oct. 1 through Oct 4 "Fall Interim Tour" included stops in Gooding, Sun Valley, Stanley and Challis. According to House Minority Leader Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, it's the first time the committee made a stop in the Wood River Valley in roughly 20 years.
Jaquet is not one of the committee's 20 members.
The committee was scheduled on Tuesday afternoon to tour Woodside Elementary School in Hailey, the National Guard Armory and areas burned in the Castle Rock Fire near Ketchum. Those visits didn't occur, however, until after a morning-long budget workshop, which included fiscal year-to-date overviews and requests from various state departments.
Committee Chairman Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, bristled at a request from the Idaho Department of Commerce to for more than $2 million in supplemental appropriations for the department's 2008 fiscal year.
"You probably have other budgets, but this is the one we needed to see in order to be happier about the other budgets," Bell told Keith Bybee of the department.
Bybee pointed out the director, Roger Madsen, wants to increase marketing and recruitment efforts in the state.
"This request reflects what he wants to do," he said.
Other budgets considered Tuesday morning included colleges and universities, public schools, criminal justice, natural resources, human services, health and welfare.
From Ketchum, the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee was scheduled to travel to Stanley Wednesday morning, where it would tour the Sawtooth Fish Hatchery. Subsequent stops were scheduled for Land of the Yankee Fork State Park and the ghost town of Bayhorse. Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation bought the Bayhorse town site in 2006 and is in the process of cleaning up the site to provide a safe visitor experience.
The department's plan is to provide a significant off-highway vehicle opportunity on the many old haul roads, providing trail users with the opportunity to "discover" the many historic structures in the area. The Land of the Yankee Fork State Historic Area was established in 1992, and it includes the historic Yankee Fork Dredge and the ghost towns of Custer and Bonanza. There is an interpretive site in Challis.
From Challis Thursday morning, the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee members will travel south and then west, returning to the Idaho School for the Deaf & Blind in Gooding, where the tour began.
Cameron said he often finds visits to the schools, such as the stops in Gooding and Hailey, to be quite helpful.
"There are messages that we take home and that we take back to our committee when we go back to Boise," he said.