A big surplus could await ’14 Legislature

Mike Ferguson spent a quarter century on the state’s payroll, tracking the state’s economic trends and helping Republican and Democratic administrations predict the fiscal future.

Ferguson hasn’t retired from number-crunching. He now plies his trade as director of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

This week, Ferguson crunched the numbers and made a bold prediction: When the 2014 Legislature arrives in Boise in January, lawmakers could be sitting on an extra $162 million that they didn’t expect to have on hand. His forecast is based in part on April revenue collections, which beat projections by $56.4 million.

“The April revenue results have profound implications for fiscal decisions that will be made in the next legislative session,” the center said in a report this week. “It is clear there will be substantially more revenue available than policymakers thought less than two months ago. How this additional revenue is utilized will depend on Idaho’s public policy priorities.”

You can read the full budget analysis here.

For state programs — starting with K-12, which receives 47 percent of Idaho general fund tax dollars — the implications are clear. An unexpected swell in state revenues would provide a potential source of new money. That could easily fund recommendations from Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force, or from a legislative interim committee studying K-12 this summer.

Or the new money could go to any number of other places, from Medicaid expansion and higher education to tax relief and bolstering the state’s budget reserves.

Ferguson has witnessed plenty of legislative sessions — enough to recognize a basic truism. The toughest sessions often occur when lawmakers have extra money to fight over.

Next year could be one of those years.

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