Idaho could see $405M surplus amid pandemic

by Keith Ridler
| August 12, 2020 1:00 AM

BOISE (AP) — Idaho could finish the fiscal year with $405 million in surplus tax revenue in spite of the pandemic’s economic toll, according to a new revenue forecast.

The state’s legislative budget office late Monday released its revised general fund revenue forecast for fiscal year 2021, which started July 1.

Revenue comes in at $4.1 billion — according to the new forecast — only $6.5 million below what lawmakers used in March when setting the budget and just before Republican Gov. Brad Little issued a stay-at-home order due to surging coronavirus infections.

The surplus is being boosted by a nearly $100 million cut to state agencies and another nearly $100 million cut to public schools enacted earlier this year amid possible budget shortfall concerns due to the pandemic.

The cuts came amid a steep economic downturn when thousands of Idaho workers lost their jobs. But budget analysts are now predicting a 2 percent growth in state revenues in spite of the job losses and downturn if the new forecast holds true.

The stay-at-home order ended April 30, and Idaho moved through opening stages at two-week intervals. It stalled the final stage thanks to worsening infection rates.

Nearly 25,000 people returned to work in June as Idaho’s unemployment rate dropped to 5.6%, the state Department of Labor reported last month.

Idaho is among the country’s fastest growing states in terms of population growth. That new money could also be providing an economic boost to the state.

But multiple factors, including the ongoing pandemic, could change the economic outlook between now and the end of the fiscal year in summer 2021.

Little said he’s planning to call the part-time Legislature back for a special session this month due to the pandemic. Special sessions normally center on a specific topic but lawmakers and Little have yet to announce the session’s focus.

In the Republican-dominated Legislature, GOP lawmakers tend to see surplus revenues as an incentive to cut taxes rather than expand government programs.

Budget analysts said in the report that Idaho’s economy was likely cushioned by federal pandemic relief money. The $2.2 trillion emergency relief package approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in late March included one-time payments to individuals of up to $1,200 alongside enhanced weekly unemployment benefits, which have since expired.

Congress has so far not approved a second relief package, and infections in Idaho show little sign of slowing.

As of Monday there were more than 25,000 virus infections and 239 deaths in the state, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The seven-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Idaho dropped to 15.7 percent through Monday from 16.43 percent on July 27, according to The COVID Tracking Project. Still, Idaho has the sixth-worst rate in the country.

The number of coronavirus infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested. Studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.