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COVID-19 Hits Idaho Budget, Especially Education, Hard


This story is part of an NPR nationwide analysis of states' revenue and budgets during the pandemic.

Republican Gov. Brad Little is wasting no time in preemptively cutting $200 million from Idaho's budget due to the economic fallout of COVID-19.

Little has asked all state agencies to slash their spending plans by 5%. That's on top of a 2% cut he pushed for prior to the global pandemic to help weather a future recession. Education will be hit particularly hard with freezes to K-12 teacher salaries and potential lower enrollment at the already cash-strapped public universities.

Revenue for fiscal year 2021, which began July 1, is forecast to plunge between $349 million and $585 million – mostly because of projected personal income and sales tax slumps.

Idaho's economy has historically been more volatile than the rest of the country's, but an analysis from Moody's Analytics says that doesn't necessarily mean it'll take longer for the state to recover.

Idaho has comparatively lower fixed costs, such as its pension obligations and retiree health care, as well as sizable reserves. The state's various rainy day accounts totaled $635.6 million on July 1, with the governor wanting to spread out any spending over several years.

"That doesn't make the cuts any less painful, but in the annals of relativity, we will get through this better than most states," said Alex Adams, Little's budget chief.

James Dawson is a reporter for Boise State Public Radio.

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James Dawson joined Boise State Public Radio as the organization's News Director in 2017. He oversees the station's award-winning news department. Most recently, he covered state politics and government for Delaware Public Media since the station first began broadcasting in 2012 as the country's newest NPR affiliate. Those reports spanned two governors, three sessions of the Delaware General Assembly, and three consequential elections. His work has been featured on All Things Considered and NPR's newscast division. An Idaho native from north of the time zone bridge, James previously served as the public affairs reporter and interim news director for the commercial radio network Inland Northwest Broadcasting. His reporting experience included state and local government, arts and culture, crime, and agriculture. He's a proud University of Idaho graduate with a bachelor's degree in Broadcasting and Digital Media. When he's not in the office, you can find James fly fishing, buffing up on his photography or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season.