Unprepared Idaho: Why D.C.’s Next Budget Crisis is Our Next Problem
Idaho’s dependence on federal money has nearly doubled in 10 years, and state policymakers are unprepared should Washington, D.C., withhold funds or stop spending money in support of state programs. That reality came into focus in January, when lawmakers learned that thousands of Idaho schoolchildren risk losing access to distance learning services through the Idaho Education Network, because the federal government is withholding $14.5 million to keep the system running. Today, the potential impact is on our school system, but because of the sheer volume of federal money entering the state system, the lack of oversight and opaque accounting, other programs are at risk, and Idahoans—young and old, urban and rural—are vulnerable.
Even though Gov. Butch Otter ordered agencies to prepare “an action plan” in the event of a 20 percent cut in federal support, agencies didn’t do that, and there’s been little follow-up since. To the contrary, the state’s reliance on federal money and various grants has grown, and likewise, have concerns about the long-term stability of federal funding sources, concerns about federal budget “sequesters,” budget deficits, trillions of dollars in federal debt and continued political brinkmanship over the U.S. government debt limit and ongoing obligations.