Josh Goodman is a former staff writer for GOVERNING..E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
To help survive budget cuts, some governors are opting not to pay their National Governors Association dues.
As states engage in yet another round of budget cutting, Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has zeroed in on an unlikely target: the money his state pays to the National Governors Association.
The NGA is funded in part by annual dues from each state-or at least the states that pay. Otter decided earlier this year that Idaho wouldn't pay its $60,000 share. He also won't attend NGA events, saving an additional $10,000.
Idaho isn't the first state to take this step. Texas Gov. Rick Perry hasn't paid his dues since President George W. Bush's first term, when he argued that The NGA was too critical of Bush's policies and the state had better ways to spend its money.
Otter, like Perry, is a conservative Republican. But his office stresses that the move is about money, not politics. While some places have had worse fiscal problems than Idaho, the state's cuts still have been painful. For the first time in state history, the Legislature approved a budget earlier this year that reduced year-over-year education spending. "The easy cuts were made a year ago," says Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman. "We've asked every agency in state government to cut their budget."
Hanian says Idaho will consider resuming payments when the economy recovers. Until then, Idaho plans to maintain a long-distance relationship with the NGA through conference calls and the like.
Idaho can do that because the NGA doesn't kick out governors whose states don't pay. "We consider all governors to be members by virtue of being governors," says Jodi Omear, the NGA's communications director. The move does come with real consequences, though. Idaho no longer will be eligible to host NGA events or receive grants and technical assistance from the organization.
Still, Idaho will keep getting the biggest benefit from the NGA: the advocacy role the group plays in Washington, D.C., on behalf of states' interests. Of course, the NGA's ability to play that role is contingent on most states not becoming free riders like Texas and Idaho.