State Budget

AP

As the Idaho Legislature prepares its annual budget, it's debating on how best to handle a $139 million surplus. That's a good thing. But according to experts, the presence of a one-time surplus can make political decisions very difficult.

Earlier this month, a panel of academics and journalists at the City Club of Boise wondered what Idaho legislators would do with a substantial surplus. Retired professor Jim Weatherby said that dealing with excess funds can be harder than dealing with a deficit.

money, budget
Tax Credits / Flickr Creative Commons

Idaho is on track to finish the fiscal year with $139 million more tax revenue than the 2016 Legislature predicted, if the latest forecast holds true.

According to revenue projections released Thursday, Idaho should take in nearly $3.26 billion from state tax and fees for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2017. The amount is $92 million more than what lawmakers originally estimated during this year's legislative session.

The Idaho Senate decided to kill a major overhaul to Idaho’s tax system Tuesday.

capitol, JFAC
Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Legislative budget writers are matching Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter's request to restore public education money slashed during the economic downturn by adding roughly $101 million to the Idaho schools budget.

The Joint Finance Appropriations Committee approved increasing the schools budget by 7.4 percent on Friday. The proposal now needs to pass both chambers, but the legislation is expected to pass.

The proposal includes allotting $33.5 million to boost teacher pay, part of a five-year teacher pay increase plan lawmakers approved earlier this week.

State lands officials are requesting more money for wildfire suppression and a better public records keeping system for fiscal year 2016.

Idaho Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz asked legislative budget writers Monday for $100,000 for the first phase of a system that will make it easier to fill public record requests. Overall, the department is seeking roughly a $3.7 million, or 8 percent, budget boost.

Idaho lawmakers had a bit of sticker shock Friday over the state’s firefighting costs.

Data: Pew | Chart: Emilie Ritter Saunders

If Idaho had to pay all its bills using just reserves, the state could have funded government for 27 days in fiscal year 2014.  That's according to a report released by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

State reserves, or rainy day accounts, were depleted during the recession as states relied on that money to pay for an increase in welfare costs and unemployment insurance benefits.