A member of the Idaho Legislature who was also a lawmaker in Montana sees Idaho faced with the same problem he saw in Montana—too much dependence on federal money as part of the general fund budget.
“Federal funding certainly grew as a percentage of Montana’s budget while I was there,” Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, explained. “If you relate that back to your personal life, say you get a significant amount of money from your parents, you’re kind of dependent on them and you become a bit cautious about doing things that they don’t want you to do. I think as a state we give up some of our sovereignty when we accept so much federal funding. It’s about 40 percent of Idaho’s state budget now.”
Vick scoffs at the notion that, somehow, federal funds coming from Washington are tantamount to “free money” for a state government.
“That’s one area where there is no difference between Montana and Idaho,” he said. “People who want to grow the size of government generally believe that we’ve got to take every federal penny that we can. But I think that’s a bad strategy. We claim, in Idaho, to have a balanced budget, yet we use federal deficit spending in Washington, D.C., to balance our budget.”
Vick said Idaho’s dependency on federal funding makes the state vulnerable because federal funding sources can be disrupted or eliminated.
“There are two cases that we’re facing even during this legislative session, one fairly significant and the other fairly small, but they both have to do with the risks of relying on federal money,” Vick said.
“One is with the Idaho Education Network, where we see that they (the federal government) have cut off that funding and are now actually talking about making us pay that back. I don’t know how that will end up, but we’re talking here about as much as $27 million, potentially, that we have to make up, at least in the short term to continue that program, a program that most of our schools have become very dependent on,” Vick stated.
A member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), the Legislature’s budget creating committee, Vick said that “we also just learned in JFAC that the Idaho State Police in their forensics training unit is requesting that dedicated funds be used to replace federal funding because the federal government cut the budget for their training by about 50 percent. It’s a very small amount compared to the rest of the budget, but it’s another example of the danger of being completely reliant on federal money.”
Vick rejects the argument that suggests that, because Idaho is such a small state, the federal debt and deficit are not impacted by Idaho’s willingness to spend federal dollars. “Just because others act irresponsibly doesn’t give us the right to act irresponsibly.”
Additionally Vick suggested that the vision of the American founders is being compromised because of federal control over how federal dollars are spent. “The founders were really quite brilliant with the way they set up the individual state governments with respect to the federal government and the states are supposed to be places where we can experiment and try different things. But we’re starting to see a homogenization of public policy as a result of too much federal funding and federal control over that money.”
In comparing the workings of the Montana Legislature and Idaho Legislature, Vick said “The general system is the same, but many of the details are different.” Vick served in the Montana House prior to being elected to the Idaho Senate in 2010.
“In Montana, every bill gets a full hearing,” Vick told IdahoReporter.com. “Minority party, majority party, every bill gets a hearing and a recorded vote. That made for a very different tenor in Montana’s Legislature.”
Vick added that Montana’s Legislature meets for 90 days every two years, which he said makes “a significant difference. We worked on Saturdays, a lot of times we worked until 9 or 10 o’clock at night to make sure everything got done in that time period.”
View the full interview with Sen. Vick HERE