Idaho’s top economist says the state’s economy may be starting to rebound, but it’s too early to know for certain, and the possible turnaround won’t help the state budget anytime soon.
Chief economist Mike Ferguson told a packed house at a City Club of Boise forum Thursday, that new numbers from the Idaho Department of Labor show non-farm employment in Idaho may start turning around. “If this holds, this is the bottom,” Ferguson said. He cautioned that the employment data aren’t final and could be revised. Ferguson also said the next round of tax revenue dollars for the state will be below expectations and that it would be months before better employment numbers boost the state budget.
Ferguson said Idaho’s economy peaked in August 2007, but said since then the state “has been dramatically impacted by this thing we call ‘The Great Recession.’” He identified three business sectors that dragged down the state: electronics, wood products, and construction. He said all three sectors were a much bigger percentage of the Idaho economy than in the rest of the country, and all three suffered worse during the economic downturn of the past few years. But Ferguson said there are hints of optimism now, such as the lack of additional layoffs at Boise-based Micron Technology.
The latest numbers from Ferguson and the state labor department may soon be good news for Idaho workers, but might not be much help to Idaho lawmakers getting ready to put together the state’s next budget. Ferguson said tax revenues lag months behind employment numbers, and the state has taken in less taxes than expected for several months.
Ferguson said a full economic turnaround in Idaho depends on business in the rest of the country. But he said Idaho still has a desirable businesses climate.
Also speaking at the City Club forum was Bob Maynard, who manages investments for PERSI, the Public Employee Retirement System of Idaho. Maynard told the audience that the retirement fund for current and former public workers is back to levels it was at before stock prices tumbled last fall.
Listen to remarks by Ferguson and Maynard at the City Club website. Ferguson and Maynard also spoke with Boise State Radio's George Prentice on Monday.
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