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‘Catapulting ahead’: Idaho thought it had a $600 million surplus. Now it’s even bigger.

Politics

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Gov. Brad Little

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho’s surplus is larger than state officials were expecting, Gov. Brad Little announced Wednesday.

State officials now expect the surplus to total about $800 million by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. And Little said he plans to put some of those extra dollars into education funding.

“Years of fiscal conservatism, swift action during the pandemic, few COVID restrictions, responsible allocation of federal relief dollars, and our relentless focus on cutting red tape are the reasons Idaho’s economy is catapulting ahead of other states right now,” Little said in a news release Wednesday.

Little will want “even more tax relief and strategic investments in key areas, with education topping the priority list,” according to his office.

State officials had anticipated about a $630 million surplus, and legislators left $139 million after approving massive tax cuts and some infrastructure investments. Income tax filings that were due in May came in stronger than officials expected, contributing to a surplus that will be the largest in Idaho’s history, said Alex Adams, head of Little’s Division of Financial Management.

Idaho state and local governments also received roughly $4 billion total from federal relief for the COVID-19 pandemic — the COVID-19 Relief Act in December and American Rescue Plan Act in March, Adams said.

The surplus provides the governor with some more possibilities as he heads into deciding next fiscal year’s budget. The governor will also need to issue recommendations for about $1.1 billion in discretionary spending over the next few months. Little will make public all budget recommendations, including ARPA discretionary funds, at his State of the State address in January.

Throughout the coronavirus pandemic, Little has emphasized economic recovery as a focus of his policies. He touted incentives the state provided during the COVID-19 pandemic to employees who return to work. He also has opted Idaho out of issuing additional federal unemployment aid aimed at those struggling financially from the pandemic, saying it is keeping people from returning to work.

The state currently has the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the U.S., at 3.1%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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