Idaho lawmakers, agency staffers not in a panic over federal sequestration

Idaho lawmakers, agency staffers not in a panic over federal sequestration

by
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
March 1, 2013
Idaho Freedom Foundation staff
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March 1, 2013
[post_thumbnail] Sen. Cliff Bayer says Idaho can't worry about 'what-if' scenarios.

According to a recent Wall Street Journal survey, 52 percent of Americans think the federal government’s sequestration is a “bad idea.” And, according to a recent report from ABC Radio News, only 32 percent of Americans actually know what sequestration means. (“I think it has something to do with horses,” an ABC survey respondent noted).

But for policymakers and government agency staffers in Idaho, sequestration—the automatic government spending cuts that have been triggered across several federal agencies by the inability of Congress and the president to agree on a budget plan—is very real, yet not overwhelming.

“We can’t afford to spend a lot of time on ‘what-if’ scenarios,” Sen. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, told IdahoReporter.com. Bayer is a member of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC). He, along with the other committee members, were presented an update Friday from the state Legislative Services Office on what the federal spending cuts may mean for Idaho state agencies.

According to the official website of the White House (Whitehouse.Gov), military bases in Idaho could feel the pain of government funding cuts the worst, potentially losing up to $6.8 million in wages.

The White House also reports that Idaho public schools could be the second-hardest hit.

“We’ve done our calculations, and we have estimates on how our state's school budgets could be impacted by it all,” Melissa McGrath, spokesperson for the Idaho Department of Education, told IdahoReporter.com. “But we need to clarify that the impact of the sequestration would likely not be felt until next school year. We think that’s significant and we’re trying to get this message out.”

She added, “Also, local school districts will have the opportunity to work with their local communities to help navigate the fiscal impact of this. But there is a lot of uncertainty in our present situation, and we’re doing our best to manage it.”

While the White House website doesn’t specifically list it, one agency in Idaho that could be impacted by federal budget cuts is the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, which administrates the federal Medicaid and food stamps programs.

“Our best estimate on the impact of the sequestration is $6,635,600 for our agency,” noted Niki Forbing-Orr, a department spokesperson. “This is a very large amount, but it’s less than one-half of 1 percent of our total budget. We think we can carefully manage our budget to make it through this fiscal year OK, but we may have to ask for state funds to backfill any critical needs once Congress sets a budget for next year.”

Still, legislators who spoke with IdahoReporter.com remain cautious, but not overly concerned about the possible reduction of federal funds.

“Federal funding only comprises about 5.3 percent of the Idaho state budget,” said Sen. Steve Thayn, R-Emmett, also a member of JFAC. “That’s comes out to about $29 million, and relatively speaking, it’s a small number.”

Bayer seems to concur with Thayn. “We have to set budgets according to what we know, not according to what we don’t know.”

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