Lawmakers line up behind Otter’s revenue numbers

A legislative committee agrees with Gov. Butch Otter on one piece of the budget puzzle: the amount of money expected to come into state coffers through June 2018.

On Thursday, the Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee approved Otter’s revenue forecasts — the underpinning for the budget the governor unveiled Monday.

Revenue forecasts are an important first step in the process of writing budgets. The numbers establish the amount of money available for state programs — including public schools, the state’s single largest budget. Otter opened the 2017 legislative session Monday by recommending a 6.4 percent increase in the K-12 budget, including $58 million in new money for teacher salaries, pay raises for other school employees and $15 million to help school districts cover rising health insurance premiums.

The House-Senate committee accepted Otter’s forecasts for 2016-17, the budget year that ends June 30, and 2017-18.

The bottom line for 2016-17 comes in at $3.35 billion, up 5.4 percent from the previous year. The 2017-18 projection, close to $3.51 billion, would represent a 4.6 percent increase from the 2016-17 forecast.

Both of the Otter forecasts would leave Idaho with robust budget surpluses. The extra money could trigger a debate between lawmakers who would want to put more money into K-12 or other programs, or lawmakers pushing for tax cuts.

But on Thursday afternoon, the forecasting process ended with no debate.

After listening to a day’s worth of economic reports a week ago — and going through its customary procedure of submitting individual forecasts — the lawmakers were quick to fall in line with Otter’s numbers.

The committee vote was 17-1, with Rep. Christy Perry, R-Nampa, casting the lone dissenting vote. After the meeting, Perry said she would have preferred a slightly lower set of projections, since she believes the harsh winter weather is already impacting her area’s farm economy.

The next step in the process occurs Friday.

The economic outlook committee report will go to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, the House-Senate panel that writes budget bills. JFAC is not necessarily bound to the revenue forecasts, and can tweak the numbers depending on changes in the economy.

Also Friday, JFAC is also scheduled to consider a series of supplemental spending requests — unexpected spending items that have come up during the 2016-17 budget year.

Kevin Richert

Kevin Richert

Senior reporter and blogger Kevin Richert specializes in education politics and education policy. He has more than 30 years of experience in Idaho journalism. He is a frequent guest on "Idaho Reports" on Idaho Public Television and "Idaho Matters" on Boise State Public Radio. Follow Kevin on Twitter: @KevinRichert. He can be reached at [email protected]

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