State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide

Idaho has long maintained a national reputation for fiscal conservatism. It earned top grades from the Volcker Alliance in three of the five budgetary categories evaluated for fiscal 2015 through 2017.

For the three years covered, Idaho got straight A’s for avoiding maneuvers to balance its budget by shifting revenues and expenditures in a way that often leaves states’ future generations forced to pay bills accumulated in the current year. For example, at no point did the state defer recurring expenditures, shift revenues and costs, fund recurring expenditures with debt, or use asset sales and up-front revenues from financial transactions to pay current bills.

Idaho was one of just eight states to receive an overall A in the category of legacy costs, which include pensions and postemployment benefits for public workers. About 92 percent of the state’s actuarially determined pension obligations are fully funded; that is 20 percentage points above the 2015 average for all states. Idaho has a relatively small pension plan, as does neighboring Montana—whose funded ratio is 75 percent.

Despite also earning an A in the reserve funds category, Idaho received a B in transparency and a D in forecasting. The latter reflects a lack of estimation tools in its budgeting process. Rather than use a consensus process for deriving a single revenue estimate, Idaho’s executive branch and legislature go through independent processes. Consensus estimates are intended to ensure that multiple contributors—usually including at least the governor and legislature—arrive at a single number on which to build a budget. Idaho doesn’t provide multiyear revenue forecasts; the legislative and executive branches disclose predictions only for the current and upcoming years.

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To emphasize the need for clear and comprehensible budgets to inform citizens, promote responsible policymaking, and improve fiscal stability, the Volcker Alliance in 2016 began a study of budgetary and financial reporting practices of all fifty states. The Volcker Alliance’s mission is to improve the effectiveness of the administration of government at all levels. Making state budgeting more transparent and accountable is an important part of that goal.

The report cards presented here are taken from the 2017 Volcker Alliance report, Truth and Integrity in State Budgeting: What Is the Reality? which proposes a set of best practices for policymakers. For those wishing to gain greater insight into state fiscal issues, the accompanying budget resource guide is derived from the Alliance publication State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses (2016). 

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