The Idaho Spending Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add important context to lawmakers’ discussions as they are considered on the floor of the House and Senate. Among the issues we look at in drawing a conclusion about a budget:
Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Does the budget examine existing spending to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate the addition of new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?
Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are sincerely objectionable or sincerely supportable.
Bill Description: House Bill 754 appropriates $161,533,400 and 48.00 full time positions to the Department of Commerce for fiscal year 2023.
The purpose of the Idaho Department of Commerce is to spend money in a way that will lead to more jobs and economic activity throughout the Gem State. House Bill 754 raises the department’s budget by 329.6% from what was appropriated last year. This staggering increase is due to $100 million in federal grant money supplied by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
Even if we were to exclude one-time IIJA funding, it is notable how more than 47% of the Department of Commerce’s budget comes from federal funding. Additionally, this budget uses $12.9 million in funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to pay for programs like tourism enhancement, broadband expansion, community development, economic planning, and the Idaho Food Bank. When the Legislature accepted ARPA funding in 2021, it recognized in Section 67-3533 of Idaho Code that these dollars were borrowed from our grandchildren and should be spent to benefit them. Though one may have a strong argument for how infrastructure updates would benefit our grandchildren, it is difficult to make the same argument for using these funds for tourism, community development, and the Idaho Food Bank.
An additional issue with using money from ARPA to cover the costs of broadband and tourism projects is that these funds are temporary, while the programs they support are not. HB 754 adds five full time positions to the staff at the Department of Commerce. One person is added to aid with tourism enhancement, but there is no end date for that program. The remaining four positions are assigned to the broadband enhancement project, but funding will only last until fiscal year 2026. After the funding runs out, it is unlikely that the state will discontinue these programs, requiring Idaho lawmakers to obtain funding from some other source.