After a fair amount of argument about parliamentary procedure, percentages, math, and whether lower revenue forecasts are “pessimistic” or “conservative,” the Joint Economic Outlook & Revenue Assessment Committee has voted, with just two dissenting votes, to adopt the governor’s baseline revenue projection for the current year and next year. That comes in at $5.1904 billion in general fund revenue for the current fiscal year, 2022, 3.6% above the FY 2021 level; and $5.4640 billion for fiscal year 2023, the fiscal year that starts July 1, which is 5.3% higher than the ’22 figure.
The two dissenters were Reps. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise, and Sally Toone, D-Gooding. Toone made a substitute motion to instead adopt the committee average – the average of the estimates of all the joint committee members, which was slightly higher for the current year and next year but lower for following year, FY 2024. “I’ve sat on this committee for three years. We always just do the governor’s recommendation,” Toone said. Noting that the governor’s forecast was the lowest of all those listed – which also included forecasts made by each committee member – she said, “I think to be fair to the state, we don’t need to be extreme, we can be kind of in the middle. And it’s unusual, truly, as a math teacher that an average and a median are this close; that usually never happens. … I think we need to be fair to the citizens and pick a number a little closer in the middle … rather than … be so pessimistic.”
Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, said, “If I’m going to support a motion, I’m going to go on the conservative side. I think we want to keep the budget as tight as we reasonably can.”
Necochea, who seconded Toone’s motion, said, “We can go for the most realistic revenue estimate that we can get, and then budget conservatively,” and “leave a lot of dollars on the bottom line in JFAC. That is our practice. … I think it should remain our practice. But I don’t think we should low-ball the estimate,” and adopt a revenue forecast “’that we don’t all believe in.” Toone’s motion failed, 11-4.
The original motion, from Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, seconded by Sen. Kelly Anthon, R-Rupert, then passed with just Toone and Necochea dissenting.
The joint committee adopts its forecast after multiple days of presentations from economists and representatives of various industries about Idaho’s economy. But it’s not binding on the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which can choose to budget to a different figure. It’s part of the process, however, as Idaho’s state budget for next year is set based on forecasts of how much tax revenue the state will collect next year.
Sen. C. Scott Grow, R-Eagle, said, “My only hesitancy in just adopting the governor’s recommendation, is we went to all this work, went to the effort, we’ve listened to a bunch of folks, and it kind of gives the impression that we just could’ve stayed home.”
Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, said, “I prefer not to call it the governor’s forecast. I prefer to call it the committee decision, if we so vote that way.”
One twist to all this: The governor’s revenue forecast this year included four separate forecasts: A baseline forecast, a pessimistic forecast, an optimistic forecast, and a weighted forecast. While EORAC adopted the governor’s baseline forecast, the governor used the weighted forecast, which combines elements of each, in crafting his budget. So the EORAC estimates actually came out about $20 million higher than the figures the governor used, both for ’22 and ’23, in putting together his budget.