Mow, hoe, trim and water. That's Rep. Maxine Bell's routine during the summer at her home in Jerome. It also describes her role as a co-chair of the Legislature's budgeting committee - with a lot of whacking and slashing thrown into the mix.
In recent years, the slashing has gone through the summer with holdbacks, or the threat of holdbacks. That's not the case this year, which makes Bell and others involved in budgeting rest easier these hot summer days. Thanks to an improved revenue picture, Idaho at long last has some predictability and stability in state government and there will not be a holdback this year.
"That's a relief," Bell said. "At the end of every session, we can only hope that we did our job well enough to avoid a midyear budget holdback."
According to The Associated Press, tax receipts for fiscal year 2013 were $2.75 billion - 3.5 percent above projections and 6.3 percent ahead of last year.
As Bell and Gov. Butch Otter remind us, the modest increase in revenue won't solve all problems. Idaho will continue to be at, or near, the bottom in education spending. Roads and bridges will still be in need of repair and the Legislature will continue trying to meet today's needs with 2009 budget figures. But at least there are signs that the economy is improving and Idaho is making ends meet - which is more than can be said for some states.
"We are not flush with money, like oil-rich states such as Wyoming, Texas and North Dakota," Bell says. But she adds that the Gem State also isn't scrambling to plug holes in the budget, such as California, Oregon and Washington - which recently held a special session to resolve budgetary issues.
Otter, who has been through 10 holdbacks in his career in state government, is exercising caution - and wisely so. For now, the $85 million is going into the state's reserve (rainy day) fund.
Putting money into a savings account is not an exciting approach. But it sure beats agency cutbacks, layoffs and furloughs, which come with midyear budget holdbacks. And it beats holding a special legislative to deal with a budget mess.
As Rep. Bell will attest, her time is better spent working on her lawn and garden in Jerome.
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