Ferguson: Extra $162 million has ‘profound implications’ for Idaho budget-writers

Former chief state economist Mike Ferguson’s analysis of the big jump in revenues for the year’s most important month means the 2014 Legislature will have $162 million more than contemplated when lawmakers adjourned early last month. That figure represents about 6 percent of state general fund spending.

But the Legislature’s budget office noted last week in its 2013-04 Budget and Revenue Monitor that the booming revenues won’t simply fall into lawmakers’ hands for new spending. Existing law requires that more than half that amount — $86.3 million — be transferred to the Budget Stabilization Fund by June 2014. The Legislature automated transfers in high-growth years to rebuild savings accounts that helped the state weather the recession.

“The April revenue results have profound implications for fiscal decisions that will be made in the next legislative session,” writes Ferguson, who heads the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy and advocates increased investment in education, transportation and and other public infrastructure.

“While the numbers will change (for example, we don’t yet know actual May and June revenue numbers, and we don’t know what revised forecast growth rate will be used for FY 2014), it is clear there will be substantially more revenue available than policymakers thought less than two months ago,” Ferguson writes. “How this additional revenue is utilized will depend on Idaho’s public policy priorities.”

Ferguson projected state revenue for six governors: Democrats John Evans and Cecil Andrus, and Republicans Phil Batt, Dirk Kempthorne, Jim Risch and Butch Otter.

Click here to read the Idaho General Fund Revenue Report issued last week. The general budget lawmakers wrote for fiscal 2014, which begins July 1, is $2.8 billion.

Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

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