Idaho could end up with a tax surplus of more than half a billion dollars by the end of next June if economic projections hold up, despite a new rally in coronavirus cases across the state and more than 500 deaths.
Gov. Brad Little revealed the news in a press conference Friday, saying that early financial forecasts show Idaho ending up with an extra $530 million at the end of the fiscal year.
“We are in a much better economic position than every other state and we are well positioned to provide resources needed to battle the ongoing pandemic,” Little said.
Many other states across the country are staring down steep drops in tax revenue due to the pandemic, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Even the personal income tax, which was threatened by sharp spikes in the state’s unemployment rate in the spring, has rebounded. It’s up nearly 14% ahead of projections.
Despite this, Little said he has no intention of lifting a one-time, $200 million cut to state agencies. That was meant to help the state weather through the predicted economic fallout.
He said many of those agencies can backfill parts of their budgets with federal coronavirus relief money, or ask state lawmakers for more money when they return to Boise in January.
Little is cautiously optimistic about the projections, which could be used for a whole host of initiatives.
“If we collectively continue our efforts to mitigate COVID-19, we will have enough money in the state budget at the end of the fiscal year to provide tax relief to Idahoans and to make much-needed investments in education, transportation and water projects,” he said.
But the state has significantly struggled to contain the coronavirus in recent months. Idaho ranks 8th highest in the country in new cases per capita, according to an Oct. 4 report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
More than half of the state’s counties have high levels of community spread, according to the White House.
Earlier this week, it recorded its 500th death of the pandemic – more people than live in dozens of the state’s rural communities.
The report told Idaho to shut down in-person learning for both K-12 schools and colleges and universities located in hotspots due to rising infection rates among young people.
But Little touted the state’s open schools, regardless of if they’re in the green, yellow or red categories, as a success Friday. “We owe it to Idaho's children to give them the best possible education,” he said.
“We can do this and what I advocate for [schools in the orange and red categories] is they look at what their neighbors and what the other school districts are doing."
At least 649 cases of COVID-19 have been linked to students, faculty and staff at public and private K-12 schools since they reopened in August, according to the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
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