The federal government’s sequester spending cuts are about to take a toll on Idaho.
The cuts, at this point, involve conservation programs and the Air National Guard, and could have impacted schools, but the governor’s office exercised a sequester option sparing schools and some road projects from any funding reductions.
In a letter dated March 19, 2013, Tom Tidwell, chief of the U.S. Forest Service, informed Gov. Butch Otter that approximately $1.5 million of federal funds budgeted to be sent to Idaho will soon be eliminated. “These mandated cuts, known as sequester, impact a number of Federal programs including the Secure Rural Schools and Grasslands payments to your state,” Tidwell wrote to Otter.
Jon Hanian, Otter’s press secretary, told IdahoReporter.com that the funding cuts fall under three different official categories of federal funding.
-Title I and Title III funds, he explained, pass through the Idaho state treasurer’s office and are then sent to the counties across Idaho for spending on schools and roads.
– Title II funds, on the other hand, are spent on conservation programs across the state.
“This letter (the letter from Tidwell) gives the governor the option of having the total sequester amount ($1.5 million) taken from the Title II funds,” Hanian noted. “We believe the easiest thing to do is to take the entire amount (of the sequester cuts) out of Title II. That does reduce the total funding for conservation projects by about 42 percent, however, it keeps schools whole.”
Hanian said that it is unknown at this time which conservation programs in Idaho, specifically, will experience the funding reduction. “There are six Resource Advisory Committees that will make that determination, but those decisions have not been made yet,” he said.
On the other hand, the impact of the sequester federal funding cuts is becoming clearer at Idaho’s Gowen Field Air National Guard Base.
“We received a directive about a month ago from the Pentagon saying that the immediate affect is that we are not going to be able to do things like community relations,” said Col. Tim Marsano, Gowen Field public affairs spokesperson.
“The fly-overs that we’ve done at parades, the static displays, air shows, those kinds of things are being cut, and that’s the immediate effect.”
Marsano notes, however, that the funding cuts are having a significant impact on the incomes and work hours of military personnel in the state. “We’re also expecting to have to furlough over 800 of our men and women around the state who are paid as federal technicians as we call them. That does include me, and we’re expecting to have to take 14 days off, which I guess is better than the original estimate of 22 days that we were originally told, and there’s a little silver lining there I suppose. But it’s not good.”
Marsano also says that for some of the military technicians in Idaho, the furlough days will amount to a loss of 20 percent of their personal income.
“It’s tough, we’re not looking forward to it,” said Marsano. “Our commander has been very forthcoming in his thoughts on how we’re going to handle it, and everybody agrees with what he says when he tells us ‘mission comes first.’ But we will do our best with fewer capabilities. It may mean, however, that training will be cut back. It may also mean that throughout the Department of Defense, equipment maintenance and things of that sort are deferred.”