After all these years working with government agencies, some of their responses continue to surprise me. On July 2, I asked the Idaho Transportation Department to tell me how it was responding to a July 1 letter containing a threat from the federal government that it may curtail highway construction money that states, including Idaho, were expecting to receive.
The department’s spokesman, Reed Hollinshead, responded with, “ITD will temporarily suspend further advertising of construction projects pending resolution of the funding shortfall. ITD is aware of the situation and remains hopeful that this impasse can be avoided.”
The response prompted other questions: Which projects would be affected by ITD’s temporary suspension of construction projects? How much money is at stake? And so on. I posed my questions, and, in the meantime, wrote my column on our reliance on federal funds for newspapers across Idaho.
Fifteen minutes before the end of business on July 3, Hollinshead sent a list of affected projects to the media and me (six projects totaling $9.7 million). But here’s the kicker: Hollinshead said the advertising suspension started in the middle of June and would expire July 8.
In other words, Hollinshead’s statement—“ITD will temporarily suspend further advertising”—was wholly in error. I don’t blame Hollinshead for this; as a former agency public information officer, I know what it is like to depend on info from other agency staff.
Here’s what I find mystifying: Why didn’t ITD officials come clean about a multimillion dollar advertising suspension sooner? And why did the federal government’s July 1 letter, which other states used to put a moratorium on construction, have the opposite response from Idaho?
These answers matter. But what matters more is the basic premise of my commentary last week, which does not change. Idaho is too dependent on the federal government.
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