Gov. Butch Otter pledged earlier this year to restrain government’s growth to a rate much lower than the private sector, but his 2015 budget—with “one-time” budgeting transfers included—nearly breaks that promise.
The spending plan, nearly $3 billion in state dollars for next year, relies on some nifty accounting to come in under Otter’s bar.
According to projections, Idaho’s economy will grow by more than 6 percent in 2015. At first glance, Otter’s budget looks like it meets his own promise; spending next year will rise by 3.7 percent, or about $103 million.
But, one-time spending transfers—payments to outside accounts like the permanent building fund or the constitutional defense fund—mask a spending rate that’s closer to 6 percent.
Here’s how it breaks down: In this year’s budget, Otter wants a $15 million transfer to the permanent building fund, which helps the governor end 2014 with a zero balance. Next year, Otter wants $15 million for the Water Resources Board, $1 million for the Constitutional Defense Fund and $2 million for the Wolf Control Board, a panel he hopes to create to deal with wolves.
Add it all up, combine it with the already-requested spending hike of $103 million, and Idaho’s left with a true increase of about $140 million.
Wayne Hoffman, head of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, initially revealed the hidden spending. “Idaho taxpayers shouldn’t have to guess what their governor and lawmakers are doing,” Hoffman wrote last week, criticizing
Otter’s budget. “It should be straightforward.”
Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian, fired back, defending the spending plan.
“But I think it is important to note that these are one-time transfers,” Hanian wrote. “We are not building any of that into a base.”
And that 2014 transfer into the building fund?
“The governor believes it is wiser to get started on these repair and maintenance projects sooner rather than later because we know we have $85 million in a deferred maintenance backlog,” Hanian wrote.
Hoffman blasted the governor for not being as transparent as possible. “What they should have is a straightforward, aboveboard description of what politicians are recommending to do with their money,” the think tank president wrote. “In the case of Otter’s budget, they’re getting something less than an honest portrayal of reality.”
Note: The Idaho Freedom Foundation publishes IdahoReporter.com.