Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes ofwebsite accessibilityIdaho's rainy day funds at $600 million: 'it's the most we've had since its creation' | KBOI
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Idaho's rainy day funds at $600 million: 'It's the most we've had since its creation'

FILE - Flowers bloom outside the statehouse in summer 2020 (Kristen McPeek Photo){p}{/p}
FILE - Flowers bloom outside the statehouse in summer 2020 (Kristen McPeek Photo)

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Idaho's rainy day funds have the most money since its creation in 1984.

The rainy day fund can be described as a savings or emergency account of money set aside for the state of Idaho.

Alex Adams, Idaho's State Budget Director says this outcome is due to plans laid out by Governor Little.

"So as Governor Little says, 'it's not the bad times that hurt you, it's what you do in the good times to prepare for the bad times,'" Adam's said. "We really tried to direct [funds] towards the state rainy day funds, and certainly at that time, we didn't anticipate a global pandemic at the depths of, which we're currently experiencing."

Every year Governor Little lays out a budget proposal before the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC). This committee is made of legislators who approve or adjust the budget for different agencies around the state. Then it goes back to the governor's desk for approval.

Democratic Representative Melissa Wintrow served on JFAC in the 2020 legislative session. She represents District 19 which is the downtown Boise area.

"I think there's a lot of myth and misconception about budgeting," said Rep. Wintrow. "Budgeting is very simple, it's about our values and priorities, and where we want to place money goes along with those values and priorities."

And according to the governor's office, rebuilding the rainy day fund was just one priority for them. The rainy day fund has not needed to be used during the pandemic in Idaho.

Adams says that population growth contributed to the state's revenue as well as additional federal aid due to the pandemic. Rep. Wintrow added that Medicaid policy changes allowed for additional state government financial savings.

"We are seeing revenue coming in at a rate faster than we forecasted prior to the pandemic," Adams said. "If we stay on the current pace that we're on, we would end the current year, with more than $530 million as a surplus, which would be the largest surplus in state history."

For Idahoans, these savings mean a lot.

Idaho has a "reason to be optimistic, but cautiously optimistic," said Adams. "We're in a better position than most states because the actions governor Little has taken. We're rated number one in the country for economic momentum during the COVID months.”

The next legislative session taking place in January will determine how these funds will be spent.

"Many states have already used quite a bit of their rainy day funds. So, certainly looking how to use those will be part of the recommendation that the governor brings in January," said Adams. "Usually you try to use them over two to three-year period, to the extent you anticipate revenue shortfalls rather than using them all at once."

As for Rep. Wintrow, she hopes to see change in the way the budget is implemented.

"I think there's a lot of differences in opinions about how we got to this point, but as I can see it on JFAC, it's a lot of budget-slashing and cutting services that citizens need," Wintrow said. "Some people will say we got here because of conservative budgeting, I think we got here on shoestring government and denying services of our citizens."

Rep. Wintrow says she hopes to see investment in nurses and our education system.

"I would take some of the revenues to invest in health care and raising salaries to so we can attract and keep qualified and appropriate staff helping our most vulnerable populations. I would invest in teachers and education because we know that this has a long term pay out," Rep. Wintrow stated.

Both Adams and Rep. Wintrow say that the coronavirus will play a role in the budgeting decisions next session in January.

"If we've ever been in an emergency, we're in one now," Rep. Wintrow said.

“We’re better positioned to weather the storm than most states,” said Adams. “It should lead to minimal reduction in critical services that many Idahoans depend on.”

Services will be needed.

In a November Policy briefing by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, it states Idahoans are still experiencing financial difficulties from the pandemic.

In the concluding remarks the briefing states, “Despite the fact that Idaho’s economy has been re-opened for almost a half year, Idaho families continue to lose income and almost a third of middle income families could not afford all of their basic expenses in the past month.”

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Read the full briefing below.

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