State spending has grown faster than inflation and the Idaho population, according to state figures. That has resulted in one lawmaker asking for an explanation of agency spending in light of what he says are increases that may not be sustainable.
Overall spending by state agencies has grown from more than $3 billion in fiscal year 1999 to more than $5.7 billion in 2009, according to legislative budget staff. Those figures are larger than the general fund because they include federal dollars and money from dedicated funds including user fees and the gas tax. Based on available numbers, factoring out inflation and population growth shows a 21 percent spending increase.
One lawmakers says the next state budget should include a closer look at spending figures during the last decade, rather than just an agency’s appropriation in the last budget.
Sen. Steve Bair, R-Blackfoot, sent an email to Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, that started a recent review of agency spending in the last 10 years. “What we wanted to discover is the actual growth of Idaho government over time,” Bair wrote in the email. “The appropriation numbers… show a clear, sharp upward trend… We thought there was no way we can keep funding at this rate of growth.”
Bair wrote in his email that looking at money spent by an agency, rather than money set aside for an agency by the Legislature, is a better measure of state government growth. Actual spending can be lower or higher than what the Legislature provides.
“Finding actual spending is like finding a needle in a hay stack,” Bair wrote.
The state does track real spending, but it is in a database that isn’t publicly available. Bair’s email led to a detailed review of spending by one state agency, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), during the past ten years. The result was a report showing that DEQ’s funding, spending, and responsibilities changed repeatedly in that span.
“There are nuances in that budget, changing fund sources, stimulus money, large increases in federal grants,” said Ray Houston, a legislative budget analyst. “For every year, there’s going to be a reason why there’s a change in funding.”
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