Butch Otter shines a spotlight on Idaho's dirty budget secret

In delivering a warning to his department heads, Gov. Butch Otter is also giving a heads up to lawmakers.

Don’t expect an unabated flow of federal dollars into state government.

Otter is asking his agency directors to come up with a contingency plan for absorbing a 20 percent cut in federal dollars. They’re supposed to report back by Aug. 1.

I don’t have any problem with this exercise, even if a 20 percent cut is an unlikely worst-case scenario.

By asking state agencies how they would go without help from Uncle Sam, Otter is shedding a little light on a conveniently forgotten reality of budgeting: Idaho depends on federal dollars more than its fed-bashing citizen lawmakers ever care to admit.

The numbers are startling and far-reaching. A few examples:

• Idaho’s Medicaid budget is $1.91 billion, with nearly $1.24 billion coming from the federal government.

• The Idaho Transportation Department gets $265 million of its $532 million budget from Uncle Sam.

• The Department of Fish and Game gets $47 million of its $93 million budget from the feds.

When lawmakers and reporters fixate on the state budgeting process, the debate usually centers on the “general fund,” money derived mostly from state sales and income tax collections. But while the general fund for 2012-13 will come in at about $2.7 billion, federal dollars account for $2.3 billion. In the case of ITD and Fish and Game, federal dollars help these agencies function without any general fund dollars.

That’s the dirty little secret of the Idaho budget. The state depends on federal dollars to bankroll many state programs. And the state, ultimately, has very little control over what actually rolls in.

So, if the state were to suddenly lose 20 percent of federal funding — a number a little south of $500 million — what can the agencies do without, and what should legislators replace through other funding sources?

It’s good that the conversation is beginning, at least at the agency level. But it should be a bigger part of the legislative budgeting discussion too.

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Face it

Idaho is one of the biggest federal welfare states in the country, and the GOP here have every excuse in the book for it. They will blame Obama for these cuts, just like they blame him for not cutting enough spending. At least Republicans are entertaining.

Entertaining? That's generous Alpha...

The more hypocrisy and fantasy based rhetoric the Republican party and thier factually challenged adherents indulge in, the less hope I have that America will find a solution to the issues our society, culture, economy and political system faces.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

But your natural resourses make up for your lite till.and thanks

Don't worry, darling, changes comin. Soon.

I agree

For every $1 Idaho pays in federal taxes, it gets back $1.21. Idaho is a welfare state that slaps the hand that feeds it.

The Reason For The Political Season

The Feds have mandated just about all the things we require financial help for. Read some of the nincompoop comments from readers here today and you see just why Democrat teeth are getting kicked in all over the nation. These people have no idea at all why or how we got into this mess in the first place. The bottom line is that Democrat and left wing special interest groups caused this financial mess are are hel-bent to make it worse. It is their mandates Idaho has to deal with whether we like it or not. If we want to fix the problem we can start by putting a stop to all these mandates.


The federal government owns 62% of the land surface in Idaho thereby severely limiting economic development by the private sector. Add to that the federal regulations that restrict what the private sector can and cannot do on private lands. We don't get back nearly enough to offset these losses.

That's why Idaho is still a beautiful state

If private ownership of public lands is allowed to happen, the scenic beauty of Idaho will be for sale to the highest bidder. Is that what you want? I think Idaho's scenic lands should be enjoyed by everyone (not just the rich and privileged) and for many generations to come.

Republicans Belly Up

If you believe in all that budget dribble the party says, then cut all of the money Idaho gets from the Feds.

Republicans Are Doing the Job

Republicans have marginalized the Democrat party by practicing conservative fiscal policies. The Democrats can't claim to be able to do that. They have no solutions except those that require higher taxes, more borrowng from China and making government bigger and more intrusive. Their dog just wont't hunt and should stay under the porch.

Borrowing money from China?

When did the Democrats suggest Idaho borrow money from China?

Really JLF...Republicans are fiscal conservatives?

Were you born yesterday? Look at the facts of the last 10 years and try to say that with a straight face. Look at St. Reagan of the 80's (a man even I voted for!).

What idiot, while facing the additional expenditures for two wars, would cut taxes and create an instant 300 billion budget gap? Well, it was a 'fiscially conservative' Republican.

I'll grant you quite a lot of Democrats want to tax and spend, but at least that makes sense. Republicans since Reagan have consistently demonstrated to be of the 'cut taxes and borrow' mentality. If you have facts that show different, I would just looooove to see them.

"No his mind is not for rent, to any god or government." Neil Peart

Sharpen your knife

Idaho Fish and Game can start by cutting all Federal dollars used to address Wolves...oh wait the FEDs dumped the problem back on the State after re-introduction. We can stop wasting money on the B.S. myth over Bulltrout in the State..like they were ever close to being endangered.

The transportation system get tons of federal dollars, primarily due to "interstate" commerce issues.

When Richert speaks of FEDERAL dollars...lets not forget who's money it is. Some yours and mine...the rest...a figment of your imagination...they just printed it and added it to the deficit.

Not exactly a dirty little secret if you pay attention at all

Unfortunately, most people don't pay attention and most legislators are happy to ignore the facts about the budget.

"dirty little secret" - really?

KR - if this is a recent discovery of yours, then you really do need to get out more often!

really useful to have the facts

It would be great to see how this breaks down, agency by agency: "But while the general fund for 2012-13 will come in at about $2.7 billion, federal dollars account for $2.3 billion."

How about a table?
Also, the most current data is $1.64 back to Idaho from Federal spending for each $1 out of Idaho to the Feds.

Federal dollars support the economy in the Silver Valley (Superfund), the economy in Idaho Falls (INL), and, as you note - medicaid, environment, almost 100%. Also, I believe, almost 100% of Dept of Labor, including all the unemployment benefits that go out to be spent in the state.

Feds control 63% of Idaho Land

They do have to pay to run that. I guess the idiot liberals commenting on this site conveniently forgot that fact too.


Truth is hard to come by