Here’s an example of the gloomy economic news that the Legislature’s joint Economic Outlook & Revenue Assessment Committee is receiving as it holds two days of hearings on the state’s economic outlook: Jane Wittmeyer, vice president of Idaho affairs for the Intermountain Forest Association, said, “Our producers of lumber and wood products are operating at about 50 percent of capacity, and of that capacity, they can sell about 50 percent of what they make. One cannot do that for very long.”
In recent years, Idaho led the nation in economic growth, but Mike Ferguson, chief economist for Gov. Butch Otter, said Idaho is now actually leading the nation in the current recession. Our unemployment rate, which was third in the nation in January of 2008, was 18th in November. We’ve seen “a pretty dramatic deterioration in our employment growth over the course of the year,” he told the lawmakers on the panel. Bob Fick of the Idaho Department of Labor told the committee, “The recession has hit every part of the state.” Overall, Idaho lost 17,600 jobs from November of 2007 to November of 2008 and 19,500 fewer people were working. Manufacturing, construction and financial services jobs are disappearing, and while health care and education are growing, those jobs pay less. “Overall, Idaho’s job situation will continue to decline and the unemployment rate rise through much of 2009 before finding bottom,” Fick said.
The committee’s job is to examine the economic outlook and decide whether to accept the governor’s projections for tax revenues, or set different figures on which to base the state’s budget for next year. The hearings continue tomorrow, and the panel will make its decision on Jan. 15. Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, the joint committee’s co-chairman, said, “It’s bleak.”