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Viewpoint: Gov. Little discusses his new Stay Healthy order, the state budget and help for small businesses

Gov. Brad Little announced $300 million in state cash grants will be made available to small businesses affected by the coronavirus.

BOISE, Idaho — Reopening Idaho is officially underway. The first of four phases in Governor Brad Little's "Rebound Idaho" plan began at midnight Friday May 1.

His Stay at Home order expired and has been replaced by his new Stay Healthy order.

The governor says 90% of businesses can now open their doors.

Under stage one, which is scheduled to run through May 15, retail stores, places of worship, daycares and organized youth activities can resume operations as long as they follow strict physical distancing, sanitation protocols and CDC guidance.

Bars, dine-in restaurants and gyms are still closed, and large gatherings are discouraged.

Governor Little also announced $300 million in federal CARES Act funding will be made available to small businesses affected by the coronavirus through state cash grants.

As many as 30,000 businesses will be eligible for cash grants up to $10,000 if they have not already received an SBA-backed Payroll Protection loan or received less than $10,000 in such a loan.

According to a news release from the governor's office, applications will be accepted starting May 11. The Idaho State Tax Commission will handle the applications. To apply, small businesses must create a Taxpayer Access Point account through the Tax Commission if they don't already have one. Click here for more information.

On this week's Viewpoint, the governor discussed his new Stay Healthy order, help for small businesses and the significant impact the coronavirus crisis has had on state tax revenue and the budget. Excerpts are below.

Doug Petcash: With the Stay at Home order expiring a lot of people are wondering if they can go out and about as they please now. Is that the case?

Gov. Brad Little: "Yeah, we went from a Stay Home order to a Stay Healthy. We're encouraging people to get out more because of the great progress we made. But all those other criteria about social distancing, good hygiene, particularly one of the most important to stay home if you're not feeling well at least until you have enough time to determine if you have the symptoms and then you can get tested."

Doug Petcash: So you're saying people can go out, start supporting those retail businesses and whatnot that you are reopening, still be wary and stay home as much as possible, or is that completely lifted?

Gov. Brad Little: "With just good old Idaho common sense. We've got social distancing criteria, but if you're around somebody you don't know and you're in a place we're recommending to people to wear masks so that they don't infect others."

Doug Petcash: You announced plans to make $300 million in cash grants available to small businesses. Applications will start being accepted on May 11. Why do you feel that was so important to get that rolled out now?

Gov. Brad Little: "Part of it is the federal government gave us $1.2 billion, which is a lot of money, and we're putting some of that into cities and counties that need that, but my economic advisory committee said, you know, these small businesses, even with the paycheck protection program, even with some of these other programs, we just need to hold them over until we get opened back up. We're the only state that's done that. In fact, of all the states, given how small we are, it's the largest amount of money that's dedicated for that federal pool of money to go right to those businesses to help them."

Doug Petcash: How will the plan work? I understand it will be up to $10,000 for as many as 30,000 businesses.

Gov. Brad Little: "Yes, that's exactly right. We've got the framework. I was on the phone just a little bit ago about making sure everything works so we don't have any hang ups in it. The Tax Commission will be the place where it takes place. Most businesses have a tax identification number because they have employees, and that will be the system that will be available. We hope to have a real quick turnaround on that money getting out. We're finalizing the details of it as we go along. All that money will be available on the Transparency Idaho website that our State Controller Brandon Wolfe runs. So there will be transparency into that program, and we think that will help give the people of Idaho confidence that it's going to the right place to jump start and continue to increase the velocity of our economy."

Doug Petcash: WIth so many businesses closed or limited, not collecting sales tax, people not spending as much, how big of an impact is this crisis having on state tax revenue and the budget?

Gov. Brad Little:  "BIg. It's a significant impact. We don't know exactly what the magnitude of it is. I have opportunity multiple times a week to talk to governors in other states. All I can tell you is it's probably going to be better here than it is almost everywhere else. We have our unemployment fund, our retirement fund, our endowment fund, our rainy day fund. We have good reserves because of the incredible, good policies of my predecessors in the legislative branch and the executive branch. We run all kinds of scenarios. It could be, I don't think it will be 20% (drop in revenue) next year. That's the worst case scenario. We're, as we always are, conservatively budgeting. We'll probably have to address it with maybe some of our rainy day fund, I'm quite confident that we're going to get some money from the federal government, and then we'll have to make some spending adjustments. If you take the loss over those three different pools it shouldn't be too significant. You have to realize that last year I did a one and two percent reduction. So our spending was already we kind of dialed that back, and that means we'll be able to tolerate this is in a better way."

Doug Petcash: Are you going to call for more budget cuts, though, for next year?

Gov. Brad Little: "We're looking at all the options."

Doug Petcash: Do you know how big?

Gov. Brad Little: "We're asking our directors of our departments to look at a 5% cut, which is the same thing I did last year and then it ended up being one and two. It's also better to prepare for the worst and hope for the best. It's just a prudent thing for us to do. I don't think we're going to have a multi-year wreck like we did after the last recession. It's going to take a while for our tax revenues to come back."

Doug Petcash: What do you anticipate the Idaho world is going to look like after we get through stage 4 (of the economic rebound plan)?

Gov. Brad Little: "My economic committee that's giving me advice and counsel, one thing we agree on because of all the things about Idaho, is relative to everywhere else is it's going to look better here than everywhere else. My goal is that Idaho, just like we did after the recession in 2009, leads the nation in recovery."

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At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus. 

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