Gov. Brad Little is walking back comments he made last week that he would not reverse a one-time, $200 million cut to state agencies, even though Idaho is expecting its largest budget surplus in history.
Last week, Little was asked point blank if he would roll back these across the board cuts to state budgets that he made in July.
“Well, I won’t reverse it,” he said.
Little pointed out universities have received millions of dollars in federal CARES Act funding and that state agencies would be able to ask lawmakers in January if they needed some extra cash.
The 5% cut didn't happen in a vacuum. State legislators, in partnership with the governor, also permanently slashed the budgets of nearly every state agency by 2%, while Boise State University, Idaho State University, Lewis Clark State College and University of Idaho pledged to freeze tuition rates prior to the pandemic.
Since last week’s press conference, Boise State University has announced mandatory furloughs for faculty, joining each of the other four-year colleges and universities in Idaho.
That leaves thousands of state workers taking a pay cut as Idaho is poised to rake in a $530 million budget surplus this year.
When asked on Thursday to explain his rationale for not reversing his budget holdback, Little said, “We have not said we would not do something, but that 5% reduction we made across the board for everybody is what’s put us in pretty good shape.”
"I'm not discounting the urgency and the crisis level for higher education," he said.
Even if the governor were to entirely restore the 5% holdback, the state would still be expected to rake in $330 million more than lawmakers budgeted for due to strong tax revenue collections in nearly every category, including the personal income tax.
Thursday’s press conference mostly focused on Idaho’s seeming inability to corral cases of COVID-19, which ranks 7th in the nation for the highest number of cases per capita over the past week.
Hospitalizations and ICU usage are among the highest they’ve ever been in the state as the average number of daily confirmed and probable cases nears 600.
As always, Little urged Idahoans to wear a mask, physically distance themselves from others and to wash their hands frequently. But he continued to rebuff questions of a statewide mask mandate or a wholesale approach to closing schools, which have potentially been a petri dish for spreading the disease among those ages 5-17.
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