On Friday, members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC) approved its revenue target for fiscal year 2013, which means lawmakers can now begin setting budgets for state agencies, public schools and Idaho’s colleges and universities.
JFAC approved a $2.667 billion revenue target, a figure $33 million less than Gov. Butch Otter’s $2.7 billion projection. This is the second finance committee that has adopted the lower figure; two weeks ago, the Economic Outlook and Revenue Assessment Committee recommended the same figure.
Committee Democrats moved to accept Otter’s figure, saying too low of a figure would be harmful to Idaho’s economy. “We think the trends we see give us reason for confidence that Idaho is making an economic recovery,” said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow. “We feel this realistic projection … will give us the opportunity to address some of the budget issues that have lingered with us.”
Sen. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, urged the higher figure to address low pay for state workers, among things. “I worry our pessimism could put our economy at risk,” LeFavour said.
But the Democrats’ economic optimism wasn’t shared by budget Republicans.
Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, warned that while the economy is coming off life support, there could still be problems. “There are still some bumps,” said Keough of her feeling on economic trends. “The trends have been up and down. The economy in the rural parts of the state is still suffering.”
Keough was joined by fellow north Idaho lawmakers in opposing the higher budget figure. Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, said it would be unfair for the budget committee to set a larger target than is realistic and then be forced to make midyear cuts.
Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said the committee needs to be cognizant of coming gas price increases, which he says will hurt the economy. “It’s going to have a significant impact, at least in our area, the tourist industry,” he warned. “That’s going to be a detriment to economic growth.”
Lawmakers approved the lower spending figure on a 16-4 vote, with all four Democrats voting against it.
Still, JFAC co-chair Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, kept a bright outlook on the budget situation. “The good news is we’re arguing about how good we are going to do,” Cameron said with a chuckle. “We are not arguing about a decrease.”
Lawmakers will begin setting budgets on Monday.