On January 25, 2019 at the Idaho Freedom Foundation web site there was an article by Wayne Hoffman titled Shutdown is reminder for lawmakers to act on fed dependency. It was reprinted unchanged as an opinion column by the Idaho Press on January 28, 2019. Wayne began:
Louisiana is the state most reliant on money from the federal government: 42 percent of its budget comes from the feds, followed closely by Mississippi. The least D.C.-dependent state is North Dakota, where just 18.4 percent of its total budget comes from Congress, according to the latest data from the nonpartisan Tax Foundation.”
Then he claimed that about a third of our budget came from the feds (32.5%). He is slightly wrong about those percentages – they really are not the very latest data, which are in an article by Katherine Loughead from January 9, 2019 titled Which states rely the most on federal aid? Mississippi was highest with 43.3%, and Virginia was lowest with 21.1%. Instead Wayne used last year’s article by Morgan Scarboro on January 18, 2018 and also titled Which states rely the most on federal aid?
The first two things we should ask are what the latest percentage is for Idaho, and how do we compare with our six neighboring states. (Back on October 5, 2015 I blogged about why this was an appropriate comparison in a post titled Using graphics to see an argument more clearly). We get 33.1% of our state budget from the federal government and rank at #27 – or almost exactly in the middle. We also rank right in the middle of our six neighbors: Montana (#6) 40.6%, Wyoming (#8) 36.1%, Oregon (#15) 35.6%, Nevada (#32), 31.3%, Washington (#38) 30,2%, and Utah (#46) 25.7%. The mean for those six neighbors is 33.2%, almost exactly equal to that 33.1% for Idaho. Wayne never says what he thinks would be an acceptable percentage. I suspect he has Utah Envy, so it might be their 25.7% - or roughly a quarter rather than a third.
But there is another factor, an ‘elephant in the room,’ that needs to be thought about before our lawmakers act rashly. Idaho is one of just five states (along with Nevada, Utah, Alaska, and Oregon) where over 50% of the land is owned by the federal government. That’s a geographical and economic fact unlikely to change. Until it does, we can only dream of really reducing our dependence on the federal government. There is a web page at Ballotopedia with data from 2013 listing Federal land ownership by state.
The bar chart shown above lists the top 25 states sorted based on percent of land owned by the federal government (brown), and compared with the percent of the state budget supplied by the feds (green). Click on it to see a larger, clearer view.
Idaho ranks third, with 61.6% of our land being owned by the feds. But we only get just a bit more than half that percentage (0.538 times) of our budget from them. 13 of those 25 states in this chart get a higher percentage of their budget from the feds than Idaho. Note also that both Mississippi with 43.3%, and Virginia with 21.1% also are on this chart.
A second bar chart shows the bottom 25 states sorted based on percent of land owned by the federal government, and compared with the percent of the state budget supplied by the feds. Again, 13 of those 25 get a higher percentage of their budget from the feds than Idaho.
And for those five states where over 50% of the land is owned by the federal government, the average budget percentage is 0.517 times the percent of land owned. Shouldn’t we and these other ‘occupied’ states get even more federal help to compensate for not having much state land left for earning money?
Why don’t we and those other four western states with over 50% federal land get a bigger percent of our budgets from the feds? Our populations simply are too small for us to influence the U.S. House of Representatives. If state populations were evenly divided, you would expect us to have 43 representatives (~10%). Instead we just have 16 (~3.7%).
Two other bar charts show the top and bottom 25 states sorted based on the percent of the state budget supplied by the feds (green) as compared with percent of land owned by the federal government (brown). As previously mentioned, we get 33.1% of our state budget from the federal government and rank #27 – so we are just below the middle. It is time for our lawmakers to think clearly before just acting foolishly.
Perhaps Mr. Hoffman should consider changing the organization name from the Idaho Freedom Foundation (IFF) to the Idaho Foundation for Fuzzy Thinking (IFFT).