Bringing the Economy Home

Lawmakers Likely to Have Tough Budget Choices Ahead

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The budget process is just getting underway at the Statehouse. Numbers will continue to change in the coming weeks.

As we reported yesterday, state lawmakers could have about $33 million less to spend on government services next year.  The Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee voted to create the state’s spending plan with a tax revenue estimate lower than the governor’s proposal.

This means lawmakers could be faced with choices.  Governor Butch Otter laid out his budget priorities earlier this month.  Topping the list: $60 million for state reserves, $41 million in one-time, merit-based bonuses for state employees (only if the state meets revenue targets) and $45 million in tax cuts.  Plus Otter’s budget plan includes some increased funding for public schools and higher education.

Otter told reporters at a morning Idaho Press Club breakfast he may be willing to rethink those priorities.  Eye on Boise blogger Betsy Russell reports:

Otter said he’s in discussions with lawmakers about making a switch in priorities in his budget proposal, switching state employee raises or bonuses from being a “surplus-eliminator” that happens only if revenues meet forecasts, to fully including them in the budget – while swapping tax cuts to the “surplus-eliminator” category. That’s something many lawmaker are talking about. “We’re discussing that – I’m open to the discussion on it,” Otter said. writes Otter also told reporters lawmakers could still achieve all his budget initiatives as long as revenues meet expectations.  But Rep. Darrell Bolz (R-Caldwell) isn’t so sure.

“I’m going to have to look at the numbers,” Bolz said. “I would say it’s going to be pretty difficult to do.”  If the lower revenue number means choosing among items on Otter’s wish list, Bolz says lawmakers will have some tough decisions to make. “That’s going to be the key issue,” he said. “How much do we do in tax reduction, for example, if we can do any tax reductions?”

Lawmakers could still vote to change their revenue estimate before budgeting starts next month.  EORAC’s estimate now heads to the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee where that panel can either accept the figure or come up with a different one.


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