A tale of two state budgets

Idaho State Journal Editorial

When it comes to the Idaho Legislature, it’s a tale of two budgets. If you’re talking about money for education and public services, including physical and mental health for the state’s poorest residents, things are tight.

But turn that talk to tax cuts and squirreling away money for a rainy day fund and things are rosy.

Gov. Butch Otter’s budget office is circulating a new revenue document around the Legislature that claims the state will collect an additional $32.7 million in fiscal 2013. The governor claims this will boost a projected state surplus high enough to provide funds for $35.7 million in income tax cuts for Idaho’s richest residents passed by the Idaho House and the $60 million he wants transferred to savings.

Even fellow Republicans are skeptical.

‘There’s all kinds of numbers floating around,’ Sen. John Goedde, R-Coeur d’Alene, told the Idaho Statesman. ‘My concern is we have realistic numbers .’

House Speaker Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, has voiced strong support for Otter’s goal of providing both tax cuts and refilling the state rainy day fund, but he’s not sold on the revenue projections either.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, told the Statesman he believes there is about $62 million available for both savings and tax cuts, $33 million below what Otter wants to use.

A stingy Legislature has thrown slight increases back into the state’s public education system, including funding for colleges and universities, but those budget amounts are still less than what was appropriated three years ago before cuts ruled the day in Boise.

And Health and Welfare funding still goes begging, even though state dollars for those programs bring in even more federal dollars.

Yes, money is tight unless it goes to help the right people. And if a new action being considered by Sen. Tim Corder, R-Mountain Home, at the request of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry (IACI) surfaces this week, even more of it is headed for tax relief o for corporations.

Corder has developed draft legislation that he says would immediately give $21 million in personal property tax relief to Idaho businesses and eventually phase out the nearly $137 million that businesses currently pay to local government entities like counties. The state would have to pick up the tab.

‘Yeah, we like that bill,’ IACI President Alex La-Beau said Friday before the Legislature recessed for the weekend.

LaBeau said the personal property tax legislation, in IACI’s view, would be complementary to the pending House Bill 563 o that would reduce personal and corporate income taxes by $35.7 million.

So as the 2012 legislative session rolls toward a conclusion, so will the dice roll on a gamble over state revenues. Even if legislators embrace Gov. Otter’s new revenue projections, this new bill to fund another $21 million in personal property tax cuts ups the ante.

Since Corder is the chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee, we expect to see this new bet placed early this week.

All of this has to seem confusing to Idaho voters. Most seemed to accept the fact that a sluggish state economy had forced deep and painful cuts to statefunded services the past two years. Now they’re supposed to believe that money is plentiful enough to help out the state’s wealthiest sectors, even though state agencies and public education are getting nothing more than fresh bandages for their wounds.

Something doesn’t add up.

We’d suggest it doesn’t somehow sound honest, but such ethical concerns don’t seem to carry much weight with the super-majority party in state politics. Like a tight rich uncle, their wallet is empty when it comes to buying groceries, but their pockets bulge with poker chips for tonight’s game with the boys.