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Gov. Little makes a stop in eastern Idaho to address state budget proposal amid $1.9 billion surplus


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IDAHO FALLS — Idaho Gov. Brad Little remains optimistic about his proposed state budget unveiled during last week’s State of the State address.

Little made a stop in Idaho Falls Friday afternoon to inform and answer media questions for nearly 40 minutes on his proposal. With tax cuts, increased funding to schools, transportation, public safety, behavioral health and more, Little said he has been asked how the government will pay for it.

“We started off in good shape,” Little said. “Last summer, when we started doing budgets, we thought we were going to have a $600 or $700 million surplus. In my wildest dreams, we never thought we would have nearly a $2 billion surplus by now.”

Currently, Idaho finds itself with $1.9 billion, which as part of Little’s proposed budget, would be split up on multiple points of his plan. Lawmakers will decide exactly where each dollar will go over the next several months during this legislative session.

Education sits on the top of Little’s priorities, with the governor wanting to increase public education spending by 11%, which adds to more than $1.1 billion over the next five years. Little says the funds should go to literacy, increasing teacher pay and benefits, as well as a program to allow parents to access funds to help with education expenses.

Little’s plan also includes $200 million in one-time funding for local bridges and $200 million in ongoing funding in infrastructure and transportation. Little also hopes to pay off state debt, like bonds, all while adding to the state rainy day funds to the maximum allowed by law, which tops $1.1 billion.

Some have said Little’s plan to keep the money in the state’s hands only keeps it away from Idahoans who need it.

“This makes me extremely angry,” Rep. Chad Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, said on Facebook. “Are you ecstatic that government can create an astronomical nest egg with your money? How much of that money do you think you will get back?”

But Little disagrees. Looking at the state budget, Little says the percentage of money going to the government is going down, not up.

He says the massive increase in state funds makes it possible to build up rainy day funds while contributing to other programs.

“That is why we are doing record tax relief,” Little said. “We’re giving some of it back in one-time (payments) just to be careful where we are and (what) we’re doing. There is always going to be critics … but I am very cognizant this is once in a lifetime and we need to be careful with what we do.”

The proposed tax cuts include a $350 million one-time income tax rebate and reducing the top income tax rate from 6.5% to 6%.

“At the same time, you are paying off maintenance, you are paying off bond debt, so that means in the out years, you’re going to be in better shape than you ever were before,” Little said. “People who often have a windfall often pay off their mortgage … what a great deal to do.”

The proposed tax bill is already in the House of Representatives with 23 of the 70 lawmakers behind it. Little expects a hearing on the bill to happen sometime in the next week.

“It’s always a good sign when the chairman of the house committee and the senate committee are both co-sponsors,” Little said.

You can see a full summary of Little’s budget proposal on the State’s website here.