Federal cuts: More unknowns than knowns

The “sequester” — the automatic and largely across-the-board federal budget cuts expected to go into effect Friday — is expected to take a $29.2 million bite out of Idaho’s public agency budgets.

These cuts are spread across 132 separate line items, the two largest among them are in education. Federal Title I funding and special education grants are each expected to drop by $2.9 million.

Those are among the knowns — sort of.

“The more we know, the less we know,” Jared Tatro of the state’s Legislative Services Office said Friday morning, during a Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee briefing on the sequester.

Legislative staff and Gov. Butch Otter’s Division of Financial Management attempted to attach some numbers to the moving target of the mandatory cuts — the result of nearly two years of federal budgeting gridlock.

For education, the cuts run the gamut from the large, the Title I and special education cuts, to the small, a $9,553 cut in a state grant for English literacy and civics education. But Idaho’s public schools may not feel the effects immediately. The state Department of Education is spending grant dollars from the 2011-12 federal budget year, not the 2012-13 federal budget subject to automatic cuts. As a result, the federal cuts won’t be felt until the state’s 2013-14 budget year, which begins July 1.

But for JFAC — which is beginning to write budget bills for 2013-14, and is scheduled to take up the K-12 budget on Monday — each looming federal cut represents a potential decision point.

DeanCameron77
Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert

State budget-writers may decide to shift around money to replace federal dollars, allow state agencies to raise fees, or simply do nothing, said Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, JFAC’s co-chairman.

And those decisions will be made in a fluid setting.

On Friday, Cameron asked DFM Director Jani Revier how the federal budget cuts might affect the Idaho economy.

Said Revier: “We don’t have enough information right now … to make a guess.”

And the Idaho impact is predicated on the forecast that the sequester will force $85 billion in cuts to defense and domestic programs. Tatro says that will probably prove to be a high-end estimate.

“How high, we don’t know,” he said. “But that kind of fits the theme of sequestration.”

The Top 10

The Legislative Services Office says the automatic federal budget cuts, known as “sequestration,” could have a $29.2 million effect in Idaho. State agencies would take $24.8 million of the hit, with the rest absorbed by local governments and other public agencies.

Here’s a Top 10 list of sorts: the largest looming “sequestration” cuts to education programs:

  • Title I: $2,951,068.
  • Special education: $2,944,638.
  • Head Start: $1,457,832.
  • State grants for improving teacher quality: $612,892.
  • Vocational education: $347,111.
  • 21st century community learning centers: $300,920.
  • Title I migrant education: $197,261.
  • College work-study: $135,538.
  • Special education, infants and toddlers: $131,046.
  • Adult education, basic grants: $116,403.

More reading: For a look at how sequestration could affect higher education, check out Clark Corbin’s Friday article.