The EDge, Kevin Richert's Idaho Education blog

Is Idaho’s surplus really good news?

Apr 19th, 2013. | Copyright © IdahoEdNews.org

Unlike many states, Idaho is expected to finish the 2012-13 budget year in the black — to the tune of $60 million.

That’s good news. Or is it?

It depends on your point of view.

For the glass half-full perspective, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey tapped an article from the subscription-only Kiplinger Letter, which reports that 30 states face a combined $40 billion in deficits for 2013, with $25 billion in deficits projected for 2014.

The glass half-empty perspective comes from the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, a think tank headed by longtime state economist Michael Ferguson.

Here’s what the center said in response to Popkey’s blog: “Idaho’s budget is looking good, but at what cost? Schools and other services are struggling to do more with less, compared to what they had to work with even just a decade ago.”

While the 2012-13 budget will end with a surplus of a little bit more than 2 percent, the 2013 Legislature did vote unanimously to restore more than $30 million to the public schools budget. This money that been earmarked for pieces of the defeated Students Come First laws. Without this midyear funding fix, this $30 million could have gone to other programs, or into the public schools’ reserve account.

But should the state concentrate its money in schools and other services, as Ferguson’s group suggests, or sock some money into surpluses, as has been practice? Heading out of 2012-13 and into the 2013-14 fiscal year, you can expect this debate to continue.

A couple of numbers to file away:

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