State Budget Practice Report Cards and Budget Resource Guide

Idaho was one of only four states to earn an A average in three of the five budgetary categories evaluated for fiscal 2016 through 2018 (no state received more than three top marks). California, Tennessee, and Utah also achieved that honor.

Long known for conservative budgeting, Idaho was given As in budget maneuvers, legacy costs, and reserve funds. It missed an A in transparency—scoring a B—because it does not disclose the cost of deferred infrastructure replacement.

The state’s biggest weakness was in budget forecasting, where it got a D, the second-lowest grade possible. Idaho does not use consensus revenue forecasts, the practice in twenty-seven other states as of 2018. Instead, the Division of Financial Management—part of the governor’s office—submits budget data collected from state agencies to the chief executive and legislature. They each examine the data, and their separate analyses are used to form the governor’s budget recommendations and the Legislative Budget Book. 

Idaho also failed to provide long-term forecasts for expenditures and revenues; the legislative and executive branches forecast only for the current and following year. What rescued Idaho from a D-minus in the budget forecasting category was its publication of reasonable, detailed rationales to support revenue growth projections at the time of its initial budget in its yearly General Fund Revenue Book. Idaho also publishes a monthly report showing revenue estimates versus actual collections and summarizes why the latter may have exceeded or trailed estimates.

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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 2018 Volcker Alliance report, Truth and Integrity in State Budgeting: Preventing the Next Fiscal Crisis 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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