Study: Idaho ranks in top half for federal dependency

Budget cuts and military spending dominate the national political debate, but the state still gets a big piece of the federal pie.

rbarker@idahostatesman.comMarch 31, 2014 


Members of the Mountain Home Air Force Base carry a large American Flag down W. Jefferson Street during the 2013 Veterans Day parade in Boise, Idaho. Saturday November 9, 2013

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For every dollar Idahoans pay in federal taxes, the state gets back $1.40, a new study shows.

The study, released last week by the personal finance website WalletHub, ranked Idaho 29th in the nation for the percentage of federal dollars it gets versus the taxes it pays.

Overall, the study ranked Idaho 31st among states for its dependence on the federal government - with a higher ranking meaning more dependency. That put 19 other states more dependent on federal dollars than Idaho.

Several factors went into the WalletHub ranking. With 35.16 percent of state revenue coming from the federal government, Idaho is 33rd among all the states, WalletHub reported. Idaho ranks 25th for the number of federal workers per capita.

New Mexico and Mississippi tied for the most-dependent state, followed by Alabama, Louisiana, Montana and Maine. Of the other states bordering Idaho, Wyoming ranked 43rd, Oregon 28th, Utah 14th and Washington 16th. Nevada, at No. 8, was the least dependent among Idaho's neighbors.

Nationally, Delaware was the least-dependent state, followed by Illinois, Minnesota, New Jersey and Connecticut.

The study is the latest to show how important federal dollars are to the economy of the state and to the services provided. And it comes as Boise is learning of a proposal to move 1,000 jobs tied to the Air National Guard from Boise to Mountain Home Air Force Base.

But federal beneficence to Idaho is not new. Idaho has long gotten more in federal spending than its citizens pay in federal taxes. From 1990 to 2009, the federal government spent $148.4 billion in Idaho, according to The Economist magazine. In the same 20 years, the federal government collected $124.3 billion in taxes from Idahoans.

That left the state with a $24.1 billion net gain. That's a big boost in a state with a $51 billion GDP.

Nowhere is this windfall more obvious than in eastern Idaho, where the Idaho National Laboratory generates $3.5 billion in economic activity and creates 24,000 jobs, according to a Boise State University study. INL has been cutting staff since 2012, and that's expected to continue.

Mountain Home Air Force Base generates more than $1 billion annually and creates 7,000 jobs. Observers are watching how proposed cuts by Congress and the Pentagon could affect the base.

But federal funds come into the state in many ways, including payments directly to the state government for government operations and services like health care and highways.

Just last week, for instance, the Interior Department announced it had distributed $20.2 million in excise tax revenues paid by sportsmen and sportswomen to the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

Federal dollars also come to Idaho in the form of Social Security and federal pension payments and wages to about 11,000 federal workers.

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