Writings and observations

Shutdown days

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Idaho

If we’re fortunate, the federal government shutdown will be over before you read this. Meanwhile, let’s put an Idaho lens on what the shutdown translates to.

You may get the impression via some reports that the shutdown closes a few campgrounds and admission to some monuments, and some paper-shuffling bureaucrats may be sent home. Passports will be harder to get. Not so bad: And at first, it isn’t. But as the closure persists, effects accumulate.

In Idaho, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter pointed out that in impact, “Gowen Field, Mountain Home, and probably the Idaho National Lab would be the biggest and the civilians that may be assigned to those.” Yes, together with Idaho’s massive national forests and Bureau of Land Management property.

But the nearly 12,000 Idahoans who work for the federal government (Idaho politicians tend to forget many constituents are also those hated feds) pull down around $800 million in a year in pay – a big driver in Idaho’s economy. A Boise State Public Radio news report quoted a state researcher as estimating those jobs have an economic multiplier of 4.74. For every federal job eliminated in Idaho, five non-federal jobs could be lost. Remember too, many “essential” federal workers on the job are working without pay.

While the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the Department of Defense (at Mountain Home Air Force Base) and the Department of Energy (Idaho National Laboratory) are the biggest federal employers, many other agencies do work in the state. Bear in in mind that even the less popular are there for a reason. The Environmental Protection Agency in Idaho just from April to June this year stopped a half-dozen businesses dumping waste into waterways, pumping filth into the air, violating pesticide rules and more – threatening the health of Idahoans. That protection largely goes away with the shutdown. Along the same lines are massive cuts in the Department of Health and Human Services, which tracks toxic substances and remedies for them, disease information, Indian health services, substance abuse, services for Medicare and Medicaid – services to protect the health of actual people.

But the shutdown affects more than just federal agencies. When you see reports about Idaho’s state budget, most attention is on the “general fund,” about $2.7 billion fed by state taxes and fees. Did you know that nearly as much – another $2.4 billion this fiscal year – is “federal funds”?

There’s more. Call your county courthouse or city hall, or school district office, or highway district office, and ask how much federal money they get. You may be surprised.

Still more. The people who get direct payments from the federal government, such as Social Security, veterans, disability and other payments, are still getting them for now. But they may not if the debt ceiling increase isn’t passed by Congress later this month. As it might not.

Nor is that all. Many business contractors depend on federal money. The largest, defense contractors like Boeing and Northrup, take in tens of billions. But there are other levels. Disclosure: Several federal agencies subscribe to publications from my small company, Ridenbaugh Press. The shutdown may cost both Boeing and me. Along with hundreds of Idaho businesses. The largest with a big Idaho presence may be Hewlett-Packard (it’s in the billion-dollar range), but many, many more do work from providing office supplies to firefighting-related services. Not for nothing are many big D.C. business lobbyists opposing the shutdown.

This federal shutdown isn’t just a few campgrounds, war memorials and bureaucrats. Remember that as the D.C. battle over futile gestures drags on.

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