Two big questions surround “sequestration:” the automatic, across-the-board federal budget cuts that would go into effect March 1.
The first question is whether the cuts will occur at all — or will Congress and the White House again cobble together a last-minute budget compromise, as they did less than two months ago?
The second question: How would the “sequestration” cuts affect Idaho — and state agencies that depend, to varying degrees, on federal dollars?
That’s hard to tell. But the National Education Association pegged the impact on Idaho K-12 programs at $10.9 million.
Will sequestration happen?
Probably, according to Sen. Mike Crapo and Rep. Mike Simpson.
Both Idaho Republicans expect the March 1 deadline to pass without a budget deal, triggering $85 billion in automatic spending cuts.
Crapo and Simpson were in Boise to discuss the debt at a Statehouse forum sponsored by the University of Idaho and Idaho Public Television.
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“I think sequestration is going to kick into effect, because I don’t see the will on either side of the aisle to try to address what are painfully stupid cuts – it’s a meat axe,” said Simpson, according to the Spokane Spokesman-Review Betsy Russell’s Eye on Boise blog.
If the axe falls, it still won’t fall evenly. Defense programs are likely to take an 8 percent cut. For nondefense programs, the cut is 5 percent. Social Security and Medicaid are exempt, and Medicare is partially exempt.
What’s the bottom line for schools?
First, some context: In 2012-13, Idaho public schools received $220.1 million from the feds, 14 percent of the total K-12 budget.
The NEA compiled state-by-state estimates, anticipating nondefense cuts in the 5.1 to 5.3 percent range. Idaho stands to lose $10.9 million, with nearly two-thirds of the cuts coming in three areas:
- Title I grants: $2,832,000, affecting up to 4,210 students and putting 44 jobs in jeopardy.
- Special education grants: 2,824,000, affecting up to 1,200 students. These cuts also put 44 jobs in jeopardy.
- Head Start: 1,395,000, affecting up to 160 students. These cuts place 106 jobs in jeopardy.
The State Board of Education isn’t sure how sequestration will affect university programs, such as research. One key area is off the table: Student Pell Grants are not subject to cuts.
Have state agencies been bracing for possible cuts?
Yes. Federal budget cuts — and their Idaho impacts — have been a moving target for months.
In May, Gov. Butch Otter asked his department heads to calculate the effect of a 20 percent cut in federal spending, as a worst-case scenario.
In July, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna warned district superintendents and charter school administrators of a cut of up to 9.1 percent — that is, if federal officials failed to reach a compromise by Dec. 31, triggering automatic cuts.
The January cuts were averted.