The harshest political ad on the air in Idaho’s governor’s race goes after Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff, branding him a “liberal” and attempting to tie him to President Barack Obama. Balukoff, a Boise businessman and longtime chairman of the Boise School Board, says the ad is full of “lies and distortions,” particularly for tying him to Obama – when he was a supporter of Mitt Romney for president.
The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a business lobbying group, put out the ad as part of its independent campaign against Balukoff. The group maintains each of its claims is backed up by a citation to a news article or other source. “It’s a critical part of our mission to inform voters about the true positions of someone running for our highest office,” Alex LaBeau, IACI president, said in a statement. The ad is part of a multi-pronged campaign the group is running that also includes a website, LiberalAJ.com, and mailers.
Jim Weatherby, Boise State University professor emeritus and a longtime observer of Idaho politics, said, “Is it over the top? Sure. But a lot of negative advertising is. Are there exaggerations? Yes. I mean, it’s a real stretch to tie a school board president to the president of the United States.” Weatherby said “liberal” is a political “dirty word” in Idaho - and that's why it's used. You can read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com. Tomorrow, I'll examine Gov. Butch Otter's new campaign commercial, which began airing today in southern and eastern Idaho but hasn't yet started up north.
Tom Luna, Idaho state superintendent of schools, is making an offer to both of the candidates vying to succeed him: The day after the election, he’s offering an office next to his to whichever one is elected to allow the next superintendent to start the transition. “They can be here every day, they can attend senior staff meetings with me, go to meetings with the governor and legislators,” Luna said. “I have positions I’ve not filled. If they want to identify candidates to fill those positions, I’ll hire them. I want this transition to be very smooth. I think that’s what’s best for education, and once the people of Idaho have spoken, let’s move forward.”
Luna, a Republican, said his offer applies equally to both candidates: Democrat Jana Jones, and Republican Sherri Ybarra. “They’ll kind of get a couple months under their belt, knowing who’s at the department, have the beginnings of a working relationship with the governor and Legislature and other stakeholders,” Luna said. “I think that would be very valuable, to have a very smooth transition so that we can keep education moving in the right direction.”
Idaho schools chief Tom Luna has submitted a proposed budget for public schools for next year that reflects a 6.9 percent increase in state funding. The budget proposal calls for $23 million to start on a new teacher career ladder, which Luna says will then need an additional $40 million a year in each of the next four years; an increase in operational funding to school districts for basic expenses next year of $10 million; $9 million for classroom technology; $21.6 million for professional development for teachers; and restoring $10 million cut from funding for maintenance and safe and drug-free schools.
All state agencies are required by law to submit budget proposals for the next fiscal year to the governor’s office by Sept. 1. Gov. Butch Otter will propose a budget to lawmakers when they convene in January, and they’ll decide on the details; by then, Luna will be out of office and the new superintendent will be either Democrat Jana Jones or Republican Sherri Ybarra.
“We’re meeting our priorities and fulfilling our promises with this budget,” Luna said in a statement. “This budget proposal follows priorities set forth by Gov. Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.” Otter had called for phasing in the task force’s recommendations, which total roughly $350 million in increased annual school funding all told, over five to six years; lawmakers approved a 5.1 percent increase in school funding this year as part of the first year of the effort.
Luna’s proposal includes statutory requirements to accommodate expected increases in student population and costs; without those, it reflects a 5.8 percent increase in state general funds. Luna’s proposed $10 million increase in operational funds would bring operational funds per classroom unit next year up to $22,885, up from $22,401 this year. But that’s still well below the 2008-09 level of $25,696 per classroom unit. Otter's task force called for restoring those funds at $16.5 million a year; last year, lawmakers exceeded that with a $35 million restoration. You can see Luna’s figures here.
John Bujak, Libertarian candidate for governor of Idaho, has posted his own anti-Butch Otter website entitled www.liberalotter.com – echoing the attack website www.liberalAJ.com put up earlier by the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry to go after Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff, as part of the business lobbying group’s independent campaign against Balukoff. Both sites accuse their targeted candidates of being liberals.
Bujak’s site is headed, “Otter: TOO LIBERAL for IDAHO,” and faults the second-term GOP governor on everything from supporting Common Core to being a “Good Old Boy.” An item at the top of the page features Otter’s face morphing into Balukoff’s and back again, repeatedly, under the heading, “Otter & AJ: Both Too Liberal For Idaho.”
“Idaho can’t afford four more years of liberal leadership,” the site concludes, above a link that says, “Don’t like Otter? Want a conservative alternative? CLICK HERE.” The link takes people to Bujak’s campaign website. “I looked at the LiberalAJ website put up by IACI,” Bujak said. “It seemed to be a little bit of the pot calling the kettle black, since Butch isn’t really that much off the mark when you compare their positions on the main issues, so it seemed like the right thing to do.”
In addition to Otter, Balukoff and Bujak, the ballot for governor this year also includes Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey and independents Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” who formerly was known as Marvin Richardson. Otter is seeking a third term.
Two write-in candidates also have filed to run for governor, both little-known independents from southwestern Idaho: Larry Allen White of Nampa and Kurt M. Wertzbaugher of Payette.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LAPWAI, Idaho (AP) — High school students in a north-central Idaho town will have to take gym classes through an online program this year after a school levy failed. Lapwai School District Superintendent David Aiken told the Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1nKd0Dp ) the district can't afford to hire a physical education teacher, so students will have to take PE through the Idaho Digital Learning Academy, a state-sponsored online school. Students will have access to the school gym and equipment, “but the teacher is on the other side of the computer,” Aiken said. About 59 percent of voters opposed the district's $250,000 supplemental levy measure. Voters also rejected a proposed levy in May. This will be the district’s second year without a music program. The district is set to cut teaching positions, a mental health counselor, aides, a bookkeeper, an attendance secretary, a custodian and a bus driver.
Idaho's red state roots haven't faded, the AP reports, but political infighting inside its Republican Party has left many feeling disenfranchised with the so-called traditional GOP candidates who will appear on this year's election ballot. Tea party voters, who showed to be a powerful voting bloc in the May GOP primary election, are threatening to stay home or vote for a Democratic candidate rather than vote for the Republican, writes AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, meaning GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term, could face a tighter race against Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff. Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, said of Otter, “Voters are still very upset at the governor for abandoning previously articulated principles. They are very much in the mood to punish him in this election.” Click below for Kruesi's full report.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho State Police say troopers have handed out more speeding tickets on interstates where speed limits have increased to 80 mph compared to the same time period last year. The agency tells the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1AXmt2b) in a story on Thursday that some drivers appear to think the new 80 mph speed limit means they can drive 90 mph. But agency spokeswoman Teresa Baker says troopers aren't giving a break on speeding tickets to anyone going over 80 mph. Speed limits on rural sections of Interstates 84, 86 and 15 increased from 75 to 80 mph in late July. The agency says at least two crashes in south-central Idaho can be attributed to the higher speed due to drivers misjudging distance and then not being able to react fast enough.
At yesterday’s auction of state-owned Priest Lake cabin sites at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, many in the crowd were wondering if the state really was getting a better deal for the state’s schoolchildren – the beneficiaries of the Priest Lake state endowment lands – by divesting itself of the cabin sites. The 59 cabin-site renters are currently being charged rent at 4 percent of appraised value for the ground under their cabins, which came to a total this year of $1,070,857.
Last night, the state endowment’s take from the auction was $26,903,812. That’s more than 25 years’ worth of rent that it collected in a single night, at today’s rental rates. In the past year, the rent collected on the properties was actually significantly less, somewhere around $700,000, as the appraisals, on which the rents are based, were still in the process of going up. At that rate, last night’s take from the auction was a little over 38 years’ worth of rent payments.
As far as what Idaho’s endowment does with cash, its permanent endowment fund – the cash – is invested in the market and last year made a whopping 18.8 percent return. In the past five years, the cash fund has made an average of 14.7 percent a year; in the past 10 years, the average gain was 8.5 percent. Looking ahead, fund managers predict an average annual gain of 6.5 percent.
Aside from the cash, the state endowment’s biggest money-maker is its timber land. Last year, a record-high timber harvest of 347 million board-feet resulted in $53.5 million in profits for the endowment; the increased harvest was due in part to salvage logging of trees damaged by wildfires and insects. All cottage site rents statewide – the state started the year with 354 lakefront cabin sites at Priest Lake and 167 at Payette Lake, but has started selling them off now – came to a net of $4.2 million. Grazing land pulled in a paltry $775,000 after expenses. Oil and gas leases brought in $1.066 million for the endowment, a relatively new revenue source.
Idaho has now sold 95, or almost one-fifth, of its 534 cottage site lots at Priest Lake and Payette Lake. Plans call for another 36 lots at Payette Lake to be auctioned later this year, with the idea of shifting to assets with a better rate of return for the endowment.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa called the Priest Lake auction “a step in the right direction for the state of Idaho,” saying, “We’re implementing a decision of the Land Board to the benefit of Idaho’s public schools while providing resolution for many families eager to move on from leasing the land beneath their homes.”
The first auction of state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake has wrapped up, with 59 of the 60 lots sold, no current lessees being involuntarily outbid for their cabins, and the state’s public school endowment fund earning $26,903,812. The crowd here at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, though much smaller than it was earlier, is jubilant. One lot attracted no bids; when it was offered again at the end, it again attracted no bids. The site is at 11 S. Shore Outlet in Priest River; it’s appraised at $200,000, with the improvements and fees at an additional $128,800. On the second offering, the current lessee and cabin owner dropped her asking price for the improvements and fees to $100,000. However, there were still no bids; that site had been dropped from the auction earlier, then added back in at the last minute.
This was the first auction offered for Priest Lake cabin sites; earlier auctions for Payette Lake cabin sites had similar results, with nearly all selling for appraised value to the current lessees. As people filed out tonight, one woman commented, “That was stressful, that's for sure.” Another cabin owner said with a grin, “We're broke, but we feel good.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The auction's back on, and so far, all lots in the final batch at the Priest Lake cabin site auction have been selling for the appraised value to the current lessees. As before, applause and cheers from the crowd are greeting every “Sold” announcement from auctioneer Kent Corbett.
All but one of the 15 Priest Lake cabin sites in the third batch have sold for their appraised value; the one exception was the one where competitive bidding pushed the price up $9,000 above the appraisal, but the current lessee ended up the high bidder. All told, the auctions today so far have raised $20,078,812 for Idaho’s public school endowment. There still are 15 sites to go in the final batch, plus one that drew no bids earlier and is being held open for possible bids.
Denny Christenson walked out of the back room where he signed contracts to take ownership of the ground under his family cabin, and said, “It feels good. It’s going to be a while to sink in.” He added, “Twenty-three years as a lessee and having a landlord – now we don’t have a landlord. Now, we have a mortgage.” He chuckled, but said, “It went really smoothly.”
Another lessee who successfully gained ownership of the ground under her family’s cabin said, “We’re just happy to have this over with – and no comment.” Said another, “It’s been a mess for a couple of years.”
Billy Symmes accompanied his beaming mother out of the contract-signing room after finalizing the purchase of the ground under their family cabin, which they’ve had since 1994. “Getting to hold onto the cabin is great – the process, no comment,” he said.
The third batch of Priest Lake cabin sites is up now, and the third one, appraised at $630,000 for the lot and $177,600 for the cabin, drew competitive bidding. It went back and forth, finally selling for $639,000 – to the cabin owners, the current lessees. The outcome drew cheers and applause; the lessees said they had no idea who was bidding against them. Relieved, they headed to a back room to sign contracts. So far, others are again selling for their appraised values to the current lessees.
By my calculations, the state's public school endowment has made $13,736,604 so far today from the auction of Priest Lake cabin sites. That's including the 14 lots that just came up for auction - all but one of which sold, while the one that attracted no bids is being held open until the end of the day - and the 16 auctioned earlier in the first batch.
There are still two more sets of cabin sites to go on the block today.
The first competitive bidding of today’s Priest Lake cabin site auction just happened, with a lot appraised at $361,604 the subject of hotly contested bidding between two determined bidders, finally selling for $485,000. There was no applause after this one; just some murmuring. That cabin site, in Coolin, has improvements on it valued at $204,900. It was one of those for which the existing lessee had planned to have someone else bid on the lot and take it over; neither of the two people bidding today was the current lessee. The high bidder will have to pay the current lessee the appraised value for the improvements.
The next few lots all have sold for appraised value.
Then, one at 11 S. Shore Outlet Road, with the lot valued at $200,000, drew no bids. Auctioneer Kent Corbett said that one will remain open for bidding until the end of the day; the final group of cabin sites comes up for bids at 7 p.m. Pacific time.
And the auction is back on, as sixty state cabin sites on Priest Lake are put on the auction block today at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. The first one in the second batch, a $650,000 lot with a cabin on it valued at $582,800, has, like the earlier ones, sold to the existing lessee for the appraised value. The result was greeted with cheers and applause. The white-haired couple with the winning bid was all smiles, exchanging greetings and back-slaps with well-wishers as they left the room to go sign contracts.
The second cabin site, a $480,000 lot with $171,100 worth of improvements on it, had a similar outcome; there were no competing bids.
An interim legislative committee kicked off a series of meetings today to look at how Idaho’s $1.7 billion state endowment is invested; it now generates more than $31 million a year for public schools from earnings both on state lands and investments of the cash in the permanent fund. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert covered the panel’s meeting and has a report here.
By my calculations, the state's public school endowment has made $7,555,000 so far today at the auction of Priest Lake cabin sites. That's the amount that's been bid just for the land; the successful bidders were all the current lessees, so they already own the buildings on the property. But if anyone else gets a high bid, they must pay the current lessee appraised value for the improvements, which in the first batch ranged in value from $45,760 to $1.7 million, on top of the cost of the land.
The first 16 of 60 properties have been auctioned so far; three more groups are still set for auction, at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., all Pacific time.
Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, has been watching today’s public auction of 60 state-owned lakefront cabin sites with interest. “We’re in the 5 o’clock session,” he said. “I’m encouraged.” When the first batch all went for appraised value, he said, “There were many happy lessees.”
Lessees, who rent the ground under the cabins from the state but build and own the improvements on them, have had “a lot of frustration,” he said, because of the fits and starts of state policy on the sites. All those in the auction today were earlier signed up for land exchanges, but the state Land Board canceled all the exchanges. “The process has been confusing and frustrating,” Christenson said. “It totally changed course at the end of last year, so there was lots of concern that the state would not follow through with the auction.”
Don Morris of Chewelah came to watch the auction today out of curiosity; his Priest Lake cabin is on a deeded site that he owns, so he’s not affected, but he used to own one on a state lease. “I’ve been on the lake since I was 15 years old,” Morris said. He said he was “a little surprised” that there was no competitive bidding on one of the cabin sites in the first batch that only had a $45,000 improvement value, because someone could have picked up the whole thing for less than $400,000. “A lot of the people that have been on the lake forever don’t want people to lose their places,” he said. “I kinda thought there might be more investors come in and try to snag some of these properties.” The real-estate company, Corbett Bottles, handling the auction “certainly did a good job” advertising it, Morris said.
When he bought his cabin in state leased land in 1972, it had a 99-year lease and the rent was $100 a year. That soon changed; the lease term dropped to 10 years, and the rent started going up. “I could just see that the price was going to get too much,” Morris said, so when he had a chance to buy a cabin on land he could own outright instead, he did it. Asked if it was worth the drive to watch the auction today, Morris said, “As soon as it’s done, I’m going to the lake.”
Sixteen of the sixty Priest Lake cabin sites on the auction block today have now sold for their appraised value to the existing lessees, with no one bidding against them. There’s a lot of relief in the big ballroom, where, during the break before the next set of auctions in just over an hour, people are exchanging hugs. Among the comments in the crowd: “Congratulations – we are so happy for you! I saw your tears of joy.” “I know my gut’s been churning, and I’m not even in this round.” “There’s a little pressure in this room – can you imagine anyone bidding against this room?” “Taxes will be cheaper than the lease.”
Patrick Hodges, deputy director of the state Department of Lands, said, “I think it’s going well. It doesn’t surprise me that everything’s going for appraised value.” A lawsuit from a group of cabin-site lessees challenging the appraisals as too high is set for a court hearing tomorrow, seeking reconsideration of a judge’s earlier rejection of their bid to prevent the newest appraisals from being used for auctions or to set rents, but all those participating in today’s auction have signed papers agreeing to accept their current appraisals, so they aren’t affected by the outcome of that case.