One-time money helps for … well, one period of time. Then what? Two Republican lawmakers point to the state taking one-time money and federal funds as short term fixes that can come back to haunt the state in subsequent years.
House Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Darrell Bolz, R-Caldwell, said while the Legislature should be aiming for 3- and 4-percent increases each budget year, the coming fiscal year’s budget was also hobbled by the amount of one-time money that had been keeping the budget in the black until now. “We are not quite there yet, but we’ve reduced the amount of one-time money in the budget,” Bolz said.
Emmett GOP Rep. Steven Thayn said the $173 million increase in funding for the coming budget year over the current budget is a reflection of a greater symptom: The state takes too much federal money and becomes dependent on it. “Really, the issue is what are we going to do in the coming years?” asked Thayn. “We’re recovering from taking too many federal funds in the last two or three years.”
Gov. Butch Otter and state lawmakers signed off on a budget for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012, that increases general fund spending by $173 million—an increase of 6.8 percent over the prior year.
The state’s general fund budget starting July 1 will be more than $2.7 billion. That figure is still behind the state’s 2008 spending levels. In addition, four times in the last 10 years the Legislature set a general fund budget with a higher percentage increase in spending than what the 2012-13 budget is. In one of those years, the state government had to retract the increase because of an economic downturn. Another year’s increase was the result of the state general fund taking on the maintenance and operations costs of public schools through an increase in the sales tax.
The total state budget—including federal funds and fees—totals about $6.2 billion. The largest percentage increase in general fund spending went to the state catastrophic health care program, which pays the health care costs of indigent Idahoans. The program’s budget went from $19.2 million to $36.5 million, an increase of almost 90 percent, but the increase is not a true picture of what’s happening in that budget. In previous years, lawmakers have had to funnel emergency money into the program to keep it fully funded through June 30. The state’s Medicaid budget is up almost 9 percent to $474 million.
Other areas of spending increases include:
- General fund support for public education is up 4.6 percent to $1.2 billion.
- The Department of Commerce budget is up 46 percent to $5.7 million.
- Community colleges also scored a big increase, up 20.5 percent to almost $28 million.
Otter spokesman Jon Hanian says that while the spending increase is a change of direction, nonetheless the governor remains committed to the conservative budgeting “that has guided our management decisions and that is leading the state of Idaho out of an economic crisis that has pushed lesser states to the brink of financial insolvency.”
“We cut government spending and we forced government to implement more efficiencies doing more with less, just like Idaho families have had to do,” Hanian said. “The governor believes it would be imprudent to change that approach now.”
An analysis of spending votes by the Idaho Freedom Foundation found that many legislators never oppose spending bills.
On other end of the spending spectrum are Rep. Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, and Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, who, on 26 occasions voted against spending bills, making them the most likely spending opponents in the Legislature.
Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, rejected appropriations bills on three occasions, the most no votes in the Senate.
Barbieri voted against $3.22 billion in appropriations, giving him a record of voting against the most spending, according to the IFF analysis.
Note: IdahoReporter.com is published by the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF). IFF executive director Wayne Hoffman contributed to this story.