Update on Legislative Funding
"... we would need to shut down all our state prisons, our community colleges, our public health districts and the state police and we would still be almost $ 40 million short of balancing our budget."
From Idaho State Senator Shawn Keough
I am writing to share with you and your readers information I have from my seat on the Economic Outlook Committee and as vice-chair of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee in regards to Idaho's economy and the state budget.
We are in historic times in Idaho. Twice as many Idahoans have lost their jobs and are unemployed than were a year ago. The unemployment numbers and other economic measurements are matching or worse than recent downturns in the early 2000s, the 1980s and are close to numbers Idaho saw during World War II.
In Idaho we are required by our state constitution to balance our budget. I believe that is a good requirement. It means that we cannot spend our citizens' tax dollars beyond what we have in hand. Tax revenues to the state - your income tax and sales tax dollars - have fallen by $43.6 million to date with 5 months remaining in our fiscal year and April being the biggest revenue month. In order to balance this year's budget we must cut $97 million dollars which is 6.3%. In next year's budget we must cut $ 286 million dollars which is a 12.8 % reduction for all state agencies and a 6.3 % reduction for our public K-12 education system. To put this in perspective we would need to shut down all our state prisons, our community colleges, our public health districts and the state police and we would still be almost $ 40 million short of balancing our budget.
K-12 public schools are a priority for the Legislature which is demonstrated by the fact that their budget makes up almost 50% of our general fund budget. In this fiscal year we have protected them from cuts by using most of the Public Schools Stabilization Fund. As we move forward in budgeting for the next two years this may not be possible and K-12 will need to take a share of the cuts. These decisions are very difficult to make and we do not make them lightly but rather with grave concerns about our actions. Every area of the state will feel the effects of these cuts.
Our job on the budget committee and in the entire legislature is to work to be fair, to try to do the least harm as possible to our vulnerable populations - the poor, elderly and disabled - and to our future generations in our K-12 system while working to make our state government reflective of our taxpayers and the economic times. Some have suggested raising taxes to make up the shortfall. I cannot in good conscience increase the tax burden on our citizens at this historically difficult economic time.
Because of prudent steps that our Governor and the Legislature have taken, Idaho is better off than other states and better positioned to weather this storm. Over time our economy has always turned around after suffering a downturn. I have no doubt these days too will pass and brighter days are ahead. If you have any questions, concerns or suggestions, please contact me. Our toll free number in Boise is 1-800-626-0471 and my e-mail address is [email protected]