Three Idaho university economists – Scott Benson of Idaho State University, Don Holley of Boise State University, and Eric Stuen of the University of Idaho – have developed a forecast for state general fund tax revenues for the next three years, and it calls for growth: After actual growth of 6.3 percent in general fund revenues in fiscal year 2013, the university economists are predicting 5.6 percent revenue growth this year, fiscal year 2014; 5.6 percent again next year, in fiscal 2015; and 4.7 percent in fiscal 2016.
“I think it’s an optimistic but not overly optimistic number,” Benson told the Legislature’s joint economic outlook committee. “We know that times are improving but they’re not great, we’re not back at growth rate in general fund revenue close to double digits, nor is there time to say well, we’d better batten down the hatches and hunker in because things aren’t going to be all that good. They are improving. … I think the economy is poised to continue growing and support these growth rates.”
Benson and Holley are here for the presentation; as he began, Benson joked, “If we’re accurate in this forecast, then Boise State and Idaho State will take credit – if we’re wrong, then we’ll blame the University of Idaho.”
Benson noted that one area where Idaho has continued to lag is in wages. “Idaho has been near the bottom of the average wage per job, and we continue to stay there,” he said.
Overall, he said, “Yes, we know there are headwinds. We think the state is on this upward trend and going to recover. We don’t think we’re some pie in the sky – I don’t think we’re being fooled. … We’re seeing continued growth, a moderating growth, because the state is getting back to its trend rate of growth, and in a low-inflation world, that trend rate of growth ought to be slower.”
When Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, questioned why things seem so glum economically when the trend lines are up, Benson said it’s a matter of comparison to the recent boom times. “This is the just-right economy – not too hot, and not too cold,” he said.