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Sunday, October 13, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Feeling flush this time of year

By Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer

BOISE - As Idaho’s state government braces for a new round of midyear budget holdbacks, the state has something it didn’t have five years ago, the last time the budget had to be slashed midyear: Nearly $400 million in reserve funds.

Idaho now has four major reserve funds: The Budget Stabilization Fund, with $141 million; the Public Education Stabilization Fund, with $113.2 million; the Economic Recovery Reserve Fund, with $67.1 million; and the Millenium Fund, a portion of which is tied up in a long-term endowment, but which also has $67.1 million in more accessible accounts.

Five years ago, two of those funds – the education fund and the economic recovery fund – didn’t exist, and the other two were depleted in their entirety to help make up state budget shortfalls. Now, the reserve funds are flush, though Gov. Butch Otter already has called for spending $14 million from the education reserve fund to protect public schools from the 1 percent budget holdback he ordered in September.

The state also has some other, smaller reserve funds: The Governor’s Emergency Fund, with $83,744; the Emergency Relief Fund, with $125,040; and the Disaster Emergency Fund, with $1.1 million.

Otter noted that six weeks ago, when he ordered the 1 percent holdback, or cut, in the current state budget, he also asked state agencies to reserve another 1.5 percent “just in case.” “We put everybody on notice six weeks ago,” the governor said. “We’re probably going to have an additional holdback.”

He noted, “States all over the United States are cutting back big-time in their budgets, and not just one, two, three, four or five percent, some of them are hitting as much as 10 to 12 percent on their budgets. It’s a sign of the times. It is going to be tough.”

In September, Otter opted against tapping into the budget stabilization fund, saying it likely will be needed later.

The September holdback trimmed $27.3 million out of the state budget midyear. The additional 1.5 percent would trim another $40.8 million.

Rural unemployment hits double digits

Idaho’s unemployment rate jumped up to 5.4 percent in October, but there’s even more pain in six mostly rural Idaho counties where unemployment soared into double-digit rates for the first time since 1999. They are: Adams County, 11.4 percent; Benewah County, 10.0 percent; Boundary County, 10.8 percent; Clearwater County, 12.2 percent; Shoshone County, 11.2 percent; and Valley County, 10.2 percent. Idaho’s still below the national unemployment rate of 6.5 percent for October, but the gap is narrowing.

State Labor Director Roger Madsen said, “Sometimes rural areas get hit hardest – and that’s certainly true for those six counties that hit double digits last month. But they aren’t alone this time.” The unemployment rate was up from October 2007 in every city, labor market area and all 44 counties in the state.

The state Department of Labor reported that the number of Idahoans without jobs now tops 40,000, double a year ago and the highest number in more than a quarter-century. Nearly 45 percent are in the Boise-Nampa metropolitan area, which has seen big layoffs at Micron Technology and other major employers.

‘More than one term’

New Idaho Congressman-elect Walt Minnick, asked how long he’d like to serve in Congress if it were entirely under his control, had this response:

“I, in all honesty, cannot answer that … not until I get there, find out the extent to which I’m effective and think I can accomplish some useful things for the state. … And there are tradeoffs between family and spending time in the out-of-doors, which is why I moved to Idaho, and spending most of my time in Washington, so I have to weigh those personal considerations as well as my own effectiveness. So I don’t know the answer to that question. But I do anticipate it being more than one term.”

Running with the Blue Dogs

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, a Republican, says when he served three terms in Congress, he often found common ground with the Blue Dog Caucus, a group of fiscally conservative Democrats. Now, Idaho’s newest congressman-elect, Minnick, is a member of that group. Said Otter, “We could do a lot worse than have the Blue Dogs get a majority of the Democrat party.” He added, “Interestingly enough, I would tell you, and so would Mike Simpson, there were many times Mike Simpson and I voted for the Blue Dog budget and only accepted the Republican budget after the Blue Dog budget lost. Oh yeah – it was much more conservative.”

Otter said he ran into Minnick at a sportsmen’s event last spring, and advised him to join the Blue Dogs – something Minnick said he already had initiated. Several members of the caucus called Otter for advice, he said, when they were considering endorsing Minnick, which they did. “They said, ‘Well, we’re going to invite him to be a Blue Dog,’ and I said, ‘Well, I think you’ve got some good prospects there, because I think Walt’s that kind of guy,’” Otter said.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached toll-free at (866) 336-2854 or bzrussell@gmail.com. For more news from Boise, go to www.spokesman review.com/boise.

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