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Idaho governor touts $1.4 billion surplus, Minority Leader says it's nothing to celebrate

New budget numbers show a nearly $1.4 billion surplus, Gov. Little has plans for investments and tax relief. Others question if the surplus is a failure to invest.

BOISE, Idaho — Official numbers from the State of Idaho show a reported state surplus of nearly $1.4 billion. State Budget Director Alex Adams told KTVB the main drivers of the budget are income tax, sales tax and corporate income tax. Corporate income certainly was the star performer, according to Adams.

Governor Little’s office says Idahoans can expect more tax cuts and additional investments.

“Idaho’s economy is red-hot because of the resiliency of our citizens and businesses. Combined with years of fiscal conservativism, reining in state spending, and our status as the least regulated state in the country, we will be able to provide Idahoans even more tax relief and make key investments where they count,” Governor Little said in a statement. “As Idahoans grapple with ever-increasing prices for gas, food, energy, and everything in between under Biden’s watch, in Idaho we are leading the way and showing the rest of the country how to create prosperity for our people.”

Little says he has priority areas like education and infrastructure for further investments with the surplus.

“This year, we made the single largest investment in public schools in state history. The strength of Idaho’s economy and the sound management of state government mean we will continue to be able to invest record amounts into schools, roads, water, and other key areas to keep up with growth and improve the lives of the people we serve,” Governor Little added.

Others, like Idaho House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel, argue that the surplus is not something that should be celebrated, but instead shows issues with priorities. Rubel points to continued issues in Idaho education, namely with maintaining a solid teacher base.

"We have over 900 teaching positions we can't fill in the state because we're paying, on average, $18,000 less a year than the neighboring states around us. This is nothing to be proud of, that we have money left in the bank because of our systemic, dramatic underpayment of our teaching professionals and really at every level throughout our government, we've been severely under compensating," Rubel said. "We can hardly maintain professors at our institutions of higher learning because they're being dramatically underpaid compared to any other state. We need to get up to par before we even start throwing a word like surplus around. We should not be using the word surplus when teachers are making $18,000 a year less than their peers in other states."

State Budget Director Adams tells KTVB there is a challenge ahead to keep in mind when talking about the budget and surplus, facing other forces in the economy.

“You have record-high inflation. You have supply chain issues, labor market shortages," Adams said. "Idahoans are struggling with the price of gas and the price of groceries and we have to manage that surplus responsibly for something that will sustain any economic condition while reinvesting in Idahoans."

In Idaho and beyond, there are concerns about the American economy heading towards a recession. Having a surplus heading into that is good news, but there could still be challenges.

“The states that are going to handle whatever economic situations may emerge, whether there is a recession or those that do the good government, prudent steps that Idaho is doing," Adams said. "Under Governor Little, we paid off all state building debt in our bond payment program. We invest in deferred maintenance. We maxed out we maxed out a rainy day. Funds by putting over $1 billion in reserve. So, Idahoans can have confidence that we are taking those steps necessary to prepare for what conditions might be on the horizon."

Idaho lawmakers will get a fresh look at new investments when they meet in January to kick off the legislative session. Rubel said education in Idaho needs attention and investments.

"The people of Idaho count on us to deliver a free and adequate system of public education and we're not doing that right now and until we meet that constitutional obligation, there should be no talk of a surplus," Rubel said.

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