Gov. Brad Little struck a cautious tone Monday about the state’s burgeoning budget surplus and chronic worker shortages.
And he again renewed his push to vaccinate — to curb the accelerating surge of the coronavirus, and to keep the state’s schools open.
Little stayed on these themes during a brief address and question-and-answer session with business people, sponsored by the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.
After touting the budget plan that made its way through the 2021 Legislature — a combination of record-setting income tax cuts and investments in education and transportation — Little hinted at followup investments in 2022. That’s because the 2022 Legislature will have abundant cash to fund education or infrastructure, cut taxes, or take on other projects.
On Friday, state economists projected the budget surplus at a whopping $1.4 billion, due to large carryover funds and another month of better-than-expected sales and income tax collections.
On top of that, lawmakers will also have $2 billion in additional federal coronavirus stimulus money at its disposal.
But Little urged restraint. The federal government has infused $6 trillion into the economy to combat the effects of the pandemic, and the surplus might not be sustainable.
“We don’t know what normal is yet,” Little said.
It’s also difficult to determine what is normal in the state’s housing and labor markets, as wages have soared even for entry-level jobs, while workers struggle to find affordable housing.
Little said he isn’t sure how these market forces will settle out. But while many business leaders have lamented the lack of job applicants, Little noted that the state was grappling with double-digit unemployment rates at the start of the pandemic.
Said Little of the current labor shortages, “’I’ll take this problem any day over that (unemployment) problem.”
Little made a bottom-line appeal for COVID-19 vaccines.
Vaccination numbers are beginning to rebound, Little noted, but that also comes as a surge in coronavirus cases casts a cloud over the start of the school year. Increased vaccinations will help K-12 students in class and allow parents to stay at the workplace rather than working from home — and that, in turn, will foster Idaho’s economic boom.
“One of the best ways to continue that success … is for Idahoans to choose to get the COVID-19 vaccine.”