UPDATE: Idaho Gov. Brad Little proposes $455M in tax relief, $250M for public health during COVID

BOISE (Idaho Statesman) — Idaho Gov. Brad Little on Monday unveiled a $4.2 billion state budget that increases spending while also promising to provide the state’s residents with $455 million in tax relief.

Little delivered his annual State of the State address Monday virtually from a Statehouse auditorium, at a time when the coronavirus has killed more than 1,500 and slowed down the economy.

Little’s budget includes $250 million in public health infrastructure to continue to respond to the pandemic, including vaccine rollouts, testing and contact tracing.

Little praised hospitals and health workers for their response to the coronavirus. The coronavirus has “divided Americans in our individual views on the severity of the disease and how we should respond to it,” Little said.

“But the pandemic also reminds us that in troubled times, we have choices. We can choose compassion over conflict, listening over lecturing, humanity over hostility.”

Little’s budget proposal would increase the general fund budget by about 3.8% but promises to include $295 million in one-time tax relief and another $160 million in ongoing tax reductions. The executive’s budget would also dedicate $390 million to infrastructure projects — namely roads, bridges, rail, water and broadband internet.

“In all parts of the state, major transportation projects continue to get pushed out further and further,” Little said. “We must address the transportation needs for this generation and the next. We must act now.”

The budget would include $126 million in state and local highway projects and $80 million in ongoing transportation funding.

Little’s speech comes as state lawmakers consider curbing the governor’s emergency powers and his ability to place state restrictions.

Little’s State of the State address on Monday touched on the violence in Washington, D.C., last week, when hundreds of President Donald Trump’s supporters stormed through the U.S. Capitol as lawmakers certified Electoral College votes.

Little on Monday said the “violence of some overshadowed the peaceful acts of many.”

“Hostility and violence are not an expression of your rights — they are a violation of everyone else’s,” Little said.

The governor’s proposed budget implements the “career-ladder build-out in the K-12 budget, which significantly increases educators’ salaries over time.

The state has a budget surplus of $630 million, according to the governor’s office. The budget proposal would leave a $180 surplus at the end of this year, and $130 million after next year, according to the governor’s office.

“Simply put, fiscal conservatism and the collaboration between the executive and legislative branches have positioned Idaho to emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever,” Little said.

The governor’s proposed budget is the only recommendation to the Legislature, which has the ultimate appropriations authority to decide what the state’s budget will end up as through the legislative process.