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Video: Budget exchange highlights Otter's hidden spending

Video: Budget exchange highlights Otter's hidden spending

Dustin Hurst
February 16, 2015
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February 16, 2015

When is spending not spending?

When budget writers call it something else, of course.

That distinction without a difference can lead to some confusion among budget watchers, even those who write annual spending plans.

During the Department of Labor’s annual report to the Legislature’s budget committee, Director Ken Edmunds outlined his request, backed by Gov. Butch Otter, for $5 million for a worker training fund. The money, Edmunds and Otter hope, will pay for grants to fuel innovative training partnerships between private industry and Idaho colleges.

That money, though, jumps through an extra hoop to get where it needs to go. Instead of a direct, line-item appropriation, Otter listed it as a fund transfer in this year’s budget proposal.

The difference? Line-item spending contributes to overall spending counts, while the transfers appear as a subtraction from spending.

The arrangement appeared to, at least momentarily, confuse Rep. John Gannon, D-Boise.

“I don’t see the $5 million in general fund money in there,” Gannon told Edmunds last week.

Edmunds passed the baton to a legislative analyst, who outlined the money’s circuitous route.

The director then offered this gem: “It’s there; it’s a question of how it flows.”=

There it is. As part of his promise to limit government’s expansion, Otter promises not to grow the state faster than the economy. This year, he planned a 5.2 percent hike in state spending, just below the projected 5.5 percent economic growth.

At least that’s how it appears. Otter’s budget hides nearly $40 million in one-time transfer funds, which is, apparently, not spending. The non-spending spending funds grants for the Departments of Labor and Commerce, plus a wolf control board and the permanent building fund.

The governor also stashed $20 million in extra payroll in his fund transfers.

Overall, his budget grows spending by 6.5 percent.

Edmunds told lawmakers he’d like to see an ongoing revenue stream for the grant program, instead of cash infusions that can die in the political process.

“We are looking at alternatives,” Edmunds said. “For now, we did not want to lose momentum in this program.”

The director said the training fund lacked adequate assets, after accounting for previous commitments, to move forward. “We don’t have money left over,” he said.

Take a look at the exchange at the 25:41 mark:

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