BOISE, Idaho — Idaho Gov. Brad Little kicked off the 2022 session of the Idaho Legislature on Monday with a promise to bolster education, lower taxes, and invest in maintenance, transportation, and broadband.
The governor unveiled his "Leading Idaho" plan during his State of the State address, delivered at the Statehouse and streaming live in this story. He struck an upbeat tone, telling listeners that Idaho has faced challenges and prevailed.
"My friends, I stand before you today with great optimism and excitement about the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity before us," Little said. "Idaho’s economy is stronger than ever before. We’re one of only four states with more jobs today than before the pandemic. Idahoans are working. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. Our budget is balanced. We have robust reserves. Idaho businesses and citizens benefit from living and working in the least regulated state in the nation."
Little credited tough decisions and smart money management as well as reduced regulations and taxes for those successes, telling legislators that Idaho has collected a $1.9 billion surplus in its budget while other states tapped into their rainy day funds and "begged politicians in Washington, D.C. for a bailout."
The governor said some of that surplus will find its way back into the pockets of Idaho residents, saying he cut $1 billion in taxes to date during his first term and calling for more income tax cuts going forward.
"I propose $350 million in immediate rebates and $250 million in ongoing income tax relief, allowing working families to keep more of what they earned and free them from the penalty of living with historic inflation," he said.
Little's proposed budget includes up to $1.6 billion that will go towards deferred roads and bridges maintenance and upgrades, as well as money for the state's including airports, railroads, port and pedestrian safety initiatives.
His plan would also leverage $225 million in federal money to to upgrade broadband infrastructure across the state. The proposal also calls for paying off all remaining state building debt and funneling $260 million into Idaho's rainy day fund.
Education funding would get a $1.1 billion boost under the proposed budget, with a 10% raise and a $1,000 bonus for all teachers in the current year. The plan also calls for a 7.1% budget increase for universities, a 4.8% increase for community colleges, and a $10 million investment in career technical education, along with funds for literacy programs and $50 million in Empowering Parents Grants.
The governor touted his response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 4,200 people in Idaho.
"I banned divisive 'vaccine passports.' I never mandated masks or vaccines," he said. "We responded to a crisis with a balanced approach and kept Idaho open."
The pandemic is expected to be a major topic during the session. Little's budget includes plans to tackle healthcare by adding medical residents, pumping more money into healthcare college programs and training, and lowering premiums on the individual healthcare market by an estimated 7%.
"We must be even more vigilant in perceived times of plenty to make decisions that are prudent and will withstand the test of time. We did not spend our way to a surplus, and budget surpluses must never become an excuse for wasteful spending," Little said. "There’s no better feeling than giving back to hardworking Idahoans more of what they earned. "
The governor also called safe elections a priority, recommending $12 million for a new elections cybersecurity fund, $500,000 for proactive election audits, and $2 million to beef up statewide information technology.
The budget proposal will be subject to discussion, changes, and ultimately a vote by legislators before taking on its permanent form.
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