JFAC Tuesday

The Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee opens a three-day interim meeting at the state Capitol on Tuesday.

It’s still early in the budget process — Gov. Brad Little won’t present his proposed budget to lawmakers until they convene their legislative session in January — but lawmakers got an early look at agency budget requests today, and by several key measures, they’re down.

While all requests totaled show a 6.3% increase in general funds over the current year’s original appropriation, or 5.1% in total funds, the number of requested new line items comes to just 224 — far below the 400 to 450 that were requested in each of the last four years. And funding requests for replacement items came in at only $2.2 million; that figure was $24.6 million last year.

“I think that’s what we need to do,” said Rep. Rick Youngblood, R-Nampa, co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee. “Obviously when we left the session, we were under the impression that we had a pretty good fund balance. Revenues have not come in like we anticipated.”

In September, Idaho saw its first revenue surplus compared to forecasts for the fiscal year; at this point, the state is projected to end the 2020 fiscal year July 1 with $75.9 million in the bank.

“We’re going to be solid for 2020, it looks like,” Youngblood said, after several hours of detailed budget briefings as JFAC opened a three-day interim meeting at the state Capitol. “Into 2021, we’ve got to make some adjustments, there’s no question. I think ultimately we’ll grow — Idaho’s growing. But we’ve got to be conservative going into 2021.”

“I appreciate the governor jumping out ahead on that,” Youngblood said.

The Little Administration sent memos out to all state agencies in August and September, both urging budget caution because state tax revenue estimates had been revised downward substantially for the current year, though a year-end surplus still was predicted.

Lawmakers on the budget-writing joint committee heard briefings on each agency’s budget requests for next year, and a large portion of the proposed funding increases — more than half — were “maintenance” requests, including items already required by law to be funded. Those amounts increase, for example, based on increased numbers of students enrolling in Idaho public schools or increased numbers of inmates locked up in Idaho prisons.

You can read my full story here at idahopress.com (subscription required), or pick up Wednesday’s edition of the Idaho Press.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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