Idaho lawmakers cut nearly $707,000 of funds that had been intended for smoking cessation ads but were used, in part, to sponsor LGBT Pride events.
These public funds support the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Project Filter campaign, a social program meant to provide free smoking cessation supplies for those who want to quit. But these dollars were effectively laundered to support causes that government officials deemed tolerant, moral, and good. Conservatives may have won when lawmakers cut the funds, but the fact they had to do so illustrates the severity of government waste in Idaho.
Funds for Project Filter come mostly from the Millennium Fund, a repository of public dollars collected from a decades-old legal settlement between tobacco companies and the state. The funds are supposed to be used to prevent smoking and vaping, primarily among youth. But at least $91,000 has been used over the last six years to support the Boise Pride Festival, the North Idaho Pride Alliance, Idaho Falls Pride, and many other LGBT activities and groups.
Last summer, IDHW had to withdraw its Project Filter sponsorship of the Boise Pride Festival after citizens learned the department would be financially supporting a drag show featuring children. If left unhindered, the IDHW would have spent $20,000 to sponsor the event, as it has done for several years now.
In response to this misuse of public funds, the Legislature voted to remove the $706,700 advertising budget in the Millennium Fund. In addition, the Legislature clarified through intent language that these funds could no longer be used for passive advertising or sponsorships.
These cuts will not take place until the start of the next fiscal year, which starts on July 1. This means that advertisements at several upcoming pride events — including the festivities that will take place during Pride Month in June — will remain funded.
It is also important to consider that cutting Millennium Funds will only stop the IDHW from funding Pride events through Project Filter advertising. It is likely the department will simply use funds for other campaigns — such as those for Hepatitis B and COVID vaccines, or “anti-stigma” awareness for opioid abuse — at future Pride events, instead.
In response, the Legislature should make clear, permanent policy decisions about what constitutes an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars for public health awareness campaigns. Better yet, legislators should consider whether it really is the proper role of government to run such campaigns, given that there are numerous private groups that are performing similar work.
At a time when Idahoans are struggling to make ends meet, it is inappropriate to spend millions on goals so unmeasurable and abstract as “improving public awareness.” Establishing policy goals with no metrics for success is the cornerstone of government waste. It allows the bureaucracy to act on its real agenda without consequences for poor performance in the original program.
It was never about educating people about the dangers of smoking. These are the socialist tactics the government uses to engineer leftism in Idaho. It subsidizes the culture unelected officials would like to see with money from your own wallet.
Wasteful spending allows the government to grow into areas that it clearly doesn’t belong. Areas that should be occupied by families, churches, and communities. It is time to cut the waste and to drive government out of these crucial areas.