Letters From the West

Park Service memo reveals depth of budget cuts

The effects of the so-called sequestration budget cuts on the federal government are revealed in a Jan. 25 memo to National Park Service staff written by Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

The memo, obtained by the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, instructs park superintendents to begin making cuts immediately to meet the $110 million target for the agency that has a $2.2 billion annual budget. The National Park Service, like most federal agencies, has already cut its budget by 6 percent over the last two years since Congress nearly shut the government down in 2011, when House Republicans used the debt ceiling to hold Democrats hostage.

The sequestration cuts will go into effect March 1 if Congress is unable to cut a deal, which is expected to have an especially hard impact on Idaho which gets far more federal funds than it pays out in taxes.

I did several stories last year based on an analysis by The Economist  that showed from 1990 to 2009, the federal government spent $148.4 billion in Idaho. That was money for roads, schools, Mountain Home Air Force Base, the Idaho National Laboratory, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, Social Security payments, farm subsidies, food stamps, Medicaid, Medicare, federal housing grants, economic development grants, fish and wildlife management, tribal health programs, federal employee salaries and benefits, and more.

During the same 20 years, the federal government collected $124.3 billion in taxes from Idahoans. That left the state with a $24.1 billion windfall that contributed to its $53.7 billion gross domestic product in 2009.

The Park Service is looking at the elimination of season employees and extended furloughs for permanent employees. The Department of Defense already began doing the same thing last fall and its impact on the  GDP was so great that the economy actually got smaller in the last quarter of 2012.

In Idaho, the Park Service impact will be in small towns like Arco and Hagerman, Lapwai and Ashton near national parks. But Defense and Energy Department cuts will cast a pall on all of Idaho’s economy like an ice storm. However, the sequester specifically left entitlement programs like Medicare untouched.


Rocky Barker is the energy and environment reporter for the Idaho Statesman and has been writing about the West since 1985. He is the author of Scorched Earth How the Fires of Yellowstone Changed America and co-producer of the movie Firestorm: Last Stand at Yellowstone, which was inspired by the book and broadcast on A&E Network. He also co-authored the Flyfisher's Guide to Idaho and the Wingshooter's Guide to Idaho with Ken Retallic. He also was on the Statesman’s team that covered the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news in 2007. The National Wildlife Federation awarded him its Conservation Achievement Award.

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