Idaho poised for historic $530 million budget surplus

Gov Brad Little discusses a budget surplus with the help of American Sign Language interpreter Steven Stubbs, left, Friday at the Statehouse. Photo by Clark Corbin/Idaho Education News.

Idaho is on track for a record $530 million budget surplus thanks to three straight months of revenues beating projections, Gov. Brad Little announced Friday.

“If this holds, it will be the largest surplus in state history,” he said.

Although the state is sitting on about 10 times as much money as expected, state officials are going to hold on to it — at least for a bit longer.

When asked by reporters Friday, Little said he wasn’t going to immediately reverse the existing 5 percent budget holdbacks.

“We will continue to track revenue and be conservative until we see what happens in the fall and winter months,” Little said.

“I am optimistic, if we collectively continue our efforts to mitigate COVID-19, we will have enough money in the state budget at the end of the fiscal year to provide tax relief to Idahoans and to make much-needed investments in education, transportation and water projects.”

Idaho’s fiscal year ends June 30.

Before the current fiscal year began on July 1, Little said he would impose a 5 percent budget holdback for all state agencies, including public schools.

The K-12 holdback came to $99 million, and Little directed the state to use federal CARES Act emergency relief funds to offset the holdbacks.

Little left the door open to freeing up the surplus before the end of the fiscal year. But he did not elaborate on what share of a surplus could go to education, as opposed to tax cuts, transportation and other projects. Instead, he said agency directors are being asked to look at their whole organization from top to bottom and identify areas that are critical for Idahoans.

“The big decisions will be when the Legislature gets here,” Little said.

The 2021 legislative session begins in January.

Sherri Ybarra

Meanwhile, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra reacted quickly to news of a potential surplus. Ybarra submitted a revised 2021-22 budget request seeking another $19.7 million for public schools, the State Department of Education announced Friday.

Ybarra said the bulk of her additional request would be spent restoring leadership premiums eliminated under the holdbacks. Ybarra is also seeking $100,000 more for the math initiative and $50,000 more for her mastery-based education initiative.

“Ybarra plans to work with the governor and the Legislature to ensure those reductions, which are critical investments in education, are fully restored in future years,” the SDE said Friday.

Ybarra’s revised budget represents an approximately 2.5 percent increase over the original budget lawmakers approved for 2020-21. Ybarra has already called for unfreezing teacher pay next year.

State budget officials said the projected surplus was attributed to individual income taxes, corporate income taxes and sales taxes all coming in ahead of forecasts.

Clark Corbin

About Clark Corbin

Reporter Clark Corbin has covered Idaho government and education for more than a decade. He’s followed every legislative session, gavel-to-gavel, since 2011. Clark is a co-host of the Extra Credit podcast with Kevin Richert published on Fridays. You can follow him on Twitter: @clarkcorbin. He can be reached by email at [email protected]

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