State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide
Idaho is a model of budgetary conservatism. It was one of only two states—along with neighboring Utah—to win top A averages for fiscal 2015 through 2019 in budget maneuvers, legacy costs, and reserve funds.
The budget maneuvers grade reflects Idaho’s avoidance of one-time revenue or expenditure tactics to achieve balance. In reserve funds, the state has clear rules for tapping its budget reserve account, and the replenishment policy includes revenue volatility in calculating deposits. Idaho automatically places up to 1 percent of general fund collections into its rainy day fund whenever revenues rise by over 4 percent from the prior year. Its reserve fund was $378 million in 2019, equivalent to 11 percent of general fund expenditures, up from 8.3 percent in 2015.
Idaho’s legacy costs mark stemmed from its paying actuarially recommended annual contributions for public worker pension plans, which in 2019 had a 95 percent funded ratio, 24 percentage points above the total for all states. Since the state has minimal obligations for other postemployment benefits (OPEB), primarily health care, it is a reasonable budgeting practice for Idaho to pay benefits out of operating revenues rather than build reserves.
The one exception to Idaho’s outstanding performance is budget forecasting, in which the state posted a D average. Idaho eschews a consensus revenue forecasting process and relies instead on projections from the Department of Finance, with no legislative involvement. The state also confines its outlook for revenues and expenditures to the upcoming fiscal year.
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 found here contain grades of the state's budgetary practices during the fiscal years of 2015 through 2019. Each state received marks in five critical categories, based on their adherence to best practices in several key budgeting indicators. The five categories covered methods used to achieve budgetary balance as well as how budgets and other financial information are disclosed to the public.
States received grades of A to D-minus (there are no “failed states”) for their procedures in estimating revenues and expenditures; their use of one-time actions to balance budgets; how they oversee and use rainy day funds and other fiscal reserves; the adequacy of their funding of public worker retirement and other postemployment benefits; and the quality of transparency of budget and related financial information. The grades are based on research conducted by public finance and budgeting professors and students at eight US schools of public administration or policy. The universities’ research efforts were augmented by Volcker Alliance staff, data consultants at Municipal Market Analytics, and special project consultants Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene.
State Budget Sources
State Budget Sources: An Annotated Guide to State Budgets, Financial Reports, and Fiscal Analyses is a resource published by the Volcker Alliance designed to help public officials, policy advocates, journalists, academics, and concerned citizens fully understand the critical fiscal decisions that governors and legislators must make. The guide includes the links below to budgets for this state as well as legislative analyses of budget bills and treasurers’ or comptrollers’ monthly state cash-flow statements; capital spending plans; reports on public-worker pension funding and returns; and reports by local and national fiscal research organizations, bond rating firms, and associations of state fiscal and finance officials.