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Otter’s behemoth budget is a call for lawmakers to act

Otter’s behemoth budget is a call for lawmakers to act

Wayne Hoffman
January 13, 2017
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January 13, 2017

“We are waiting to get our marching orders.” So said one legislator last Monday while awaiting the arrival of the governor, who was about to give his State of the State address at the Capitol. This is wrong thinking.

Lawmakers are not supposed to serve as rubber stamps or potted plants. If they truly believe in conservative principles -- and most of them profess to do -- they still have to prove it, regardless of what Otter says.

Below is the governor’s proposed big-spending budget, by the numbers. This shows why it’s important for lawmakers to get their jobs right.

  • 9 percent. That’s the actual increase in general government spending over the current base appropriation contemplated by the governor. Not 5.9 percent, the figure reported by both the Otter administration and the press. Mind you, 5.9 percent is still a big leap in government spending, but Otter’s $3.5 billion spending blueprint covers up the true 9 percent number simply by hiding a lot of general fund spending in other government accounts.
  • 49 percent. If lawmakers approve the governor’s budget, it will represent an increase of 49 percent over what they approved just seven years ago. Moreover, the state’s reliance on the federal government would increase by about 3 percent, making it a cumulative 55 percent increase over the last decade.
  • 390. The number of new state employee positions requested by the governor. That’s an increase of about 2 percent and would bring the projected total number of state employee positions from about 18,930 to about 19,320 -- more than work for Idaho’s two largest private employers (St. Luke’s hospital system and Wal-mart) combined.
  • 44,541. The number of state and K-12 employees included in the governor’s budget. If that were a city, it would be Idaho’s eighth largest, just behind Twin Falls but slightly bigger than Lewiston.
  • $267 million: The actual size of Idaho’s projected budget surplus in the 2017-2018 budget. Otter’s budget for next year proposes using all but $199 million of that figure, leaving $68 million unspent.
  • $11 million. That’s the amount of money Otter’s proposed 2018 budget recommends spending on new automobiles, furniture, computer and other equipment for state agencies.
  • $12 million. This is the Otter administration’s current estimate of how much the corporate welfare program, known as the Tax Reimbursement Incentive, costs taxpayers. Otter has proposed expanding the program and adding yet another corporate welfare program, for so-called data farms.
  • $58. That’s the amount per month the typical state employee pays for health insurance, thanks to taxpayers, who pay the rest. A typical plan for a self-employed person can be as much as ten times that per month.
  • About $11,000. The amount of taxable income you need to earn to reach the state’s top tax bracket, 7.4 percent -- the highest in the intermountain region.
  • About $19 million. The actual tax relief the general public has seen in the last decade of Otter’s leadership. Otter said last Monday that he’s provided $1 billion in tax relief. But most of that is reflected in the increased grocery tax credit, which was raised in 2008 in order to relieve the effects of raising the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent in 2006. According to his office, Otter has provided more than $213 million is general tax relief. Most of that has been erased by $194 million in tax and fee increases Otter and lawmakers approved in 2015 for transportation.

And the most incredible number in Otter’s 2018 budget is … drumroll, please:

  • Zero. That’s the amount of general tax relief the governor proposed last year and proposes this year.

Here are two more numbers: 20 and 105. There are 20 legislators who will initially consider the governor’s budget recommendations and come up with a budget of their own. All 105 state lawmakers will vote on your money will be spent, and all will have a part to play in how big the government grows, how much you pay for it and how much of a tax break—if any—you will get. This means, we anxiously await the next number: The number of statesmen who will question the governor’s approach and the number of rubber stampers who will just do what they’re told.

Related: Want to tell your lawmakers how you feel about Otter's behemoth budget? Download Testifi, our new mobile device app! Learn about it here. 

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