Idaho legislative budget chief Cathy Holland-Smith has begun presenting a state legislative budget update to the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference this morning. The figures, she said, were first presented to the Legislative Council, but because the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee hasn't yet held its fall meeting, many lawmakers are seeing the figures for the first time. Here's my story from the Legislative Council meeting, which noted that Idaho lawmakers are facing something they haven’t seen in years: A ‘manageable’ budget. When they convene in January, they’ll likely be able to balance next year’s state budget without further cuts, and even make up some cuts and start refilling the state’s drained reserve funds.
Idaho’s state tax revenues fell 16 percent from fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2011, and though they’re now growing again, they still haven’t hit the 2008 level. The state’s general fund budget, set at $2.959 billion in fiscal year 2009, was set at just $2.529 billion this year, down 15 percent in three years. Lawmakers and Gov. Butch Otter intentionally left $91.5 million on the table, unbudgeted, for fear that revenues would dip below state economists’ projections. Instead, the state is on track to easily cover its costs next year. That’s even with an automatic transfer of $26 million to the budget stabilization fund - a move triggered by the revenue growth. In recent years, Idaho’s drained all its reserve funds just to balance its budget.
The strong revenues required the state to send more money out to schools to meet federal maintenance-of-effort requirements. “Nobody really anticipated the revenue to be that robust,” Holland-Smith said.