Forgive the self-described “old, burned-out” budget analyst in Idaho for his slight amazement at how easily lawmakers absorb billions of federal funds these days.
Last month, legislative leaders began to think about how to split the latest installment of the US bailout bill.
They were positively enthusiastic about the prospects.
Maybe it would go in the direction of expanded broadband connectivity.
Or it could be used to help seniors support community mental health, childcare, rent, or mortgage assistance.
Even helping communities – presumably including Lewiston – that invested their own money in upgraded drinking water and wastewater treatment plants before federal aid became available could be on the table.
With more than $ 5.6 billion from ARPA – including $ 2.6 billion provided by lawmakers – “we have a rare opportunity to fix things,” said House spokesman Scott Bedke, R -Oakley.
Asks the Budget Officer, “What happened to the Idaho Walk? Legislators hated pouring federal funds into the state. They’d howl like hell if we did not-kog (short for unrecognizable or unforeseen) federal money, usually just a few hundred thousand to make up for differences between state and federal fiscal years, for health and welfare programs, etc. Now we’re taking billions that are available for infrastructure projects – over several years, no less. “
That was certainly the case in 2009, when the Obama administration’s recently passed American Recovery and Reinvestment Act promised to save Idaho’s recession-ridden state budgets. At the time then-Gov. CL “Butch” Otter was more inclined to take the side of his Republican government colleagues. Mark Sanford from South Carolina and Bobby Jindal from Louisiana initially resisted the aid.
“What about the fine print?” asks the employee. “How many times have you heard Idaho lawmakers and governors talk about the terms of federal funding?”
Case in point: Medicaid extension that came with Obamacare. For the first three years of the program, the federal government has committed itself to assuming all costs of the program. But lawmakers reluctantly complained that the state would eventually be hooked for 10 percent of the budget. It was only after Idaho voters passed their own election initiative that Idaho expanded Medicaid coverage to include those who were too poor to afford private health insurance but not penniless enough to qualify for Medicaid.
The personalities involved, of course.
So the circumstances. As COVID-19 devastated the economy, states got used to bailout packages from Republican and Democratic governments.
For Republican lawmakers, infrastructure dollars are easier to digest – who doesn’t like a new freeway, a better bridge, or even a new sewage treatment plant? But there’s a lot of money going on other things like public education – $ 396 million, Medicaid programs – $ 78 million, or childcare – $ 70 million.
“No,” says the budget guy, “it’s the same old game. When you’re busy raising Uncle Sam’s money, no one is watching what you’re doing with your own. “
And what no one is watching is Idaho officials wasting their own money on tax coupons for the rich.
Earlier this year, Idaho took a staggering amount – about $ 389.2 million – and gave it to businesses and wealthy individuals for tax relief.
l Idaho schools continue to wither. The expenditures per student are at the last end and are about 40 percent below the national average.
l Teacher salaries in Idaho are lower than in 38 other states, including all neighboring states except Montana, according to the National Education Association.
l As Sami Edge of Idaho Education News noted this week, the state is about $ 160 million short of staffing its schools with counselors, psychologists, nurses and social workers.
l According to Rebecca Boone of The Associated Press, not enough people are willing to work in state prisons for what the state is willing to pay.
“This mirage won’t last forever,” says the experienced employee. “At some point the bill will be due. But with so much federal money coming in, it’s hard to ask questions. ”- MT