Idaho Lt. Gov. Brad Little says he’s hearing a lot of anger from Idahoans across the state. “For the last five or six months, I’ve been all over Idaho, I’ve been to nearly every county, and I’ll tell you, they’re mad – they’re mad about the federal government,” he told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference today. “Particularly in the rural areas, there’s quite a bit of hostility out there.” Issues making Idahoans mad include the federal debt, gridlock and partisan bickering, he said.
Of the new budget deal in Congress, he said, “It’s a little bit of a relief to hear that we’re not going to go off one more fiscal cliff. … At least they got something done, right, wrong or indifferent.”
Idahoans are a little more amenable to their state and local governments, Little said, but, “We have to work a little bit harder because of that animosity that exists out there.”
Little was the luncheon keynote speaker at the conference today. He praised the governor’s education stakeholders task force recommendations as “a laudable road map,” and said it speaks well “that there is bipartisan support for it, and it is very broad-based.” Little said in his view, if Idaho focuses on a strong workforce, robust infrastructure, a regulatory environment conducive to growth and a “fair and competitive tax system with a strong balance sheet,” the state will succeed. “We’ll be the preferred place for prosperity for this generation and generations to come.”
Jani Revier, Gov. Butch Otter’s budget chief, told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho today, “We expect a conservative budget that doesn’t over-commit.” She said, “The good news is that general fund revenues are recovering from the recession. … The general fund is forecasted to return to the fiscal year 2008 levels by next fiscal year.” Idaho transferred an additional $85 million in unexpected revenue to its budget stabilization fund on July 1, she noted, but said, “Our state economist has warned that much of this revenue is one-time.” The budget stabilization fund, the state’s main rainy-day savings account, now has $135 million in it – nearly reaching its statutory cap.
“As the state’s economy began to recover, the governor set forth the following principles” for the state budget, Revier said. They are: Not to grow at the same rate as the economy; maintaining structural balance; and replenishing rainy-day accounts. “We are not going to simply restore lost general fund from the agencies that we cut,” she said. “The governor wants to focus on making strategic reinvestments,” focusing on core areas of government and not losing efficiencies gained during the years of downturn.
Revier said Otter has made clear that certain items will be included in his budget proposal for fiscal year 2015: Recommendations of his education task force; health and human safety needs; addressing a maintenance backlog; and covering increased employer healthcare costs. The state is expecting a substantial increase in those costs, to the tune of $1,400 per employee, she said, and covering that will be “a significant investment in our state’s workforce.” She said once basic needs are covered for state government, “There just isn’t much money to do anything new.”
Scott Anderson, president and CEO of Zions Bank, said there were five reasons his company decided to expand in Idaho, the reasons “we decided to make significant investment in this new building just up the street,” the nearly finished office tower at 8th and Main streets in downtown Boise that’s the bank’s new Idaho headquarters. The five? Low energy costs (32% below the national average); low construction costs (4th most cost-effective place to build in the western U.S.); educated workforce, in that the state ranks in the top third nationally for the number of adults with a high school diploma; easy transport of goods, including access to the Columbia River system; and high quality of life, from a serious crime rate 21 percent below average to abundant recreation.
“Each of these five encouraging factors makes the state a very desirous place to live,” Anderson told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference this morning. He also noted that Idaho has the lowest per-capita tax burden in the nation and the nation’s second-lowest property taxes – but didn’t include those factors in his top five. “At Zions, we are very bullish on the future of Idaho,” he said. “We believe in Idaho and so we are investing in Idaho.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Boise State has hired Bryan Harsin as the Broncos head football coach. Boise State athletic director Mark Coyle made the announcement official Wednesday, calling Harsin one of the top young coaches in the country. The 37-year-old moves from Arkansas State to take over for Chris Petersen, who left last week for Washington. The former Broncos assistant says he's thrilled to be returning to Boise, where he grew up and played as a walk-on for the Broncos. Harsin worked at Boise State from 2001-2010, serving as offensive coordinator under Petersen for five years. He left in 2010 to become offensive coordinator at Texas before moving to Arkansas State last season. In his only season as head coach, the Red Hawks finished 7-5 and will play in the GoDaddy.com Bowl this month.
There's more here on Harsin and the announcement. Coyle said, “Bryan played a key role in the development of the football program as an assistant for 10 years at Boise State and we look forward to his leadership as we continue the ascension of Bronco football.”
Harsin said, “We're coming home. … One of the hardest decisions we ever made was leaving Boise. We did that so I could become a better coach, so I could one day have the opportunity to return as head coach - that day has arrived.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Todd Dvorak.
Wayne Harper, a Utah state senator and president of the Streamlined Sales Tax project’s governing board, told the Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference this morning that the move in Congress to enable states to collect sales tax on online sales doesn’t mean a tax increase. “It’s being labeled as a tax increase, a new tax. It’s not,” he said. “It’s just a collection method for the states.” He noted that various states are planning for corresponding tax cuts if they get the opportunity to directly collect sales tax on online purchases; in Idaho, those taxes already are due and payable by law, but people are supposed to self-report them and pay them on their state income tax returns, which few do.
Harper said he sponsored a bill in Utah saying if that state gets to collect the taxes directly, it’ll put them all in a restricted account, and use them to reduce the state’s general sales tax, “so it’ll be revenue neutral.” Other states are planning income tax cuts; others are planning to use the increased revenue. Virginia already has put it into law that it’ll void an approved sales and fuel tax increase if it can begin collecting the tax on online sales. “It’s an issue and it’s an opportunity for each one of the states, to do what you want to do,” Harper said.
“I think there’s an equity situation there,” he said. “Right now, you’re requiring your local businesses to collect those sales taxes, but you’re not doing them on remote.” Harper said states that join the Streamlined Sales Tax project, which Idaho has thus far resisted doing, would be able to start collecting the taxes six months after the congressional bill becomes law. Without that step, he said, “I think that’s going to be much more challenging and onerous for you.”
Here's a news item from the Associated Prss: A person familiar with the decision tells The Associated Press that Boise State has hired Arkansas State's Bryan Harsin as its next coach. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the move had not become official. Harsin will replace Chris Petersen, who left Boise State for Washington last week. Harsin worked at Boise State from 2001-2010 and was offensive coordinator for the Broncos from 2006-2010. He was offensive coordinator at Texas for two seasons before taking over at Arkansas State, where he went 7-5 this year. The Red Wolves have had three straight one-and-done coaches: Hughes Freeze, Gus Malzahn and Harsin.
Gov. Butch Otter told more than 400 local officials, legislators, lobbyists and others gathered for the 67th Associated Taxpayers of Idaho conference today that the headline for his agenda for the upcoming legislative session should be “More of the Same.” “I would rather be a little short on the front end, and perhaps under-promise and over-deliver,” Otter said. “And that’s what I think we’ve done in the last seven years with the help of the Legislature, and that’s what I’m planning on doing with the rest of my time on office.”
Otter said the state budget that’s set for the coming year likely will represent an increase of between 3 and 3.5 percent. “I would tell you, in my meetings with the JFAC chairs and leadership, we’re going to focus on replenishing some of those institutions that the Constitution tells us is our responsibility – we’ll focus on those first,” he said. “Then, next, other proper roles of government that we can agree need to be replenished. And finally, well maybe not finally, replenish our savings.”
Said the governor, “I don’t know what we would’ve done in 2008 if we hadn’t had $400 million in savings. … I can tell you there’s nothing tougher to do or more dysfunctional in government than a holdback.”
The latest numbers are out for enrollment in health care plans through the YourHealthIdaho.org exchange, and 1,730 Idahoans have now enrolled in plans, up from 338 at the last report Nov. 13. Another 1,854 applicants were determined to be eligible for Medicaid. Applications have been completed for 15,048 Idahoans, and 7,133 of those have been deemed eligible for subsidies.
“We are hearing success stories from all around the state of people getting online and getting coverage, some for the first time,” said Amy Dowd, executive director of the Idaho exchange. You can read the full announcement here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho motorists are finally getting a break at the gas pump. AAA Idaho reports that gasoline prices have dipped below the national average. The state's 26-cent drop in prices in the last 30 days is also the nation's biggest price decline. The state's average price on Tuesday as $3.15 per gallon, down from $3.41 a month ago and $3.43 the same time a year ago. AAA Idaho spokesman Dave Carlson says the last time Idaho's average price dipped this low was in late January. The national average price is $3.20, and three states have average prices below the $3 mark — Missouri, Oklahoma and Kansas. Pump prices vary across the state, from $3.19 in Boise to $2.93 in Coeur d'Alene and $3.23 in Lewiston.
More than 85 supporters gathered to cheer chief deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane this evening as he announced his candidacy for Idaho Secretary of State – and to sample free BBQ provided by a candidate who’s also a national BBQ champion. Among GOP notables in the crowd: Several elected county clerks from around the state; Ada County elected officials; former state Sen. Mary Hartung; state Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise; and longtime Idaho GOP activist Phil Reberger, who said he sees “a lot of potential” in the 32-year-old candidate. McGrane is entering a potentially crowded race, with former state House Speaker Lawerence Denney already in the race and several others considering it.
Canyon County Clerk Chris Yamamoto, who’s also a GOP precinct chairman in his county, told the crowd, “Phil McGrane knows what we do, he knows how we do it, and Phil knows what we need.” Yamamoto said McGrane helped his neighboring county when it looked like it couldn’t get new precincts in place in time for a May primary after a late-stretching redistricting process, and he’s helped other counties in the state as well with sterling results. Twin Falls County Clerk Kristina Glascock gave McGrane similar kudos.
McGrane, an attorney and elections specialist, said, “Having worked for so many years to ensure that people have the right to vote, I have a deeply profound respect for institutions that are built upon this right. … I believe our party, or any party, is strongest when our success is based upon its principles and not when a select few try to bend the rules in their favor.” He pledged to “ensure the transparency and integrity of Idaho's government.”
Other candidates considering the race include former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise; current state Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene; and current state Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise.
Kendra Wisenbaker, a 5th grade teacher in the Meridian School District, says she taught the American revolution differently to her class this year, in line with the new Idaho Core Standards. “My kids have never been so excited about the American revolution, because we’re tying it in to reading and writing,” she said. “They’re eating it up.” The difference: The subject matter extends outside their Social Studies textbook and into their reading and writing assignments, and the students are getting engaged, including through reading a book entitled, “George vs. George,” about George Washington and King George III. “With these new standards has come this idea that you have to integrate,” Wisenbaker said.
Wisenbaker, pictured at right, joined a panel sponsored by Idaho Business for Education this afternoon to discuss the new Idaho Core Standards and how they’re working in Idaho’s schools, which began teaching to the new standards this year, after lawmakers approved them in 2011. Don Coberly, Boise School District superintendent, said, “It’s going very well, and I feel like kids are getting a new depth of understanding in math and language arts.” In math, he said students still need to get the right answer, but they must learn to explain how they got there, so they understand what it means, rather than just memorize.
Though the standards have some vocal opponents, Anne Ritter, chair of the Meridian School Board and immediate past president of the Idaho School Boards Association, said there are only small pockets of opposition around the state and in her district; the ISBA gave the standards “resounding approval” at its recent meeting in Coeur d’Alene, she said. “I think the trustees reflect their communities,” she said. “I have found if I send the parents to the standards themselves, it alleviates a lot of fear.” For more on the Idaho Core Standards, click here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho inmate has been ordered to serve 33 months in prison and repay more than $59,000 collected by purporting to be a claimant in class-action lawsuits and bankruptcy settlements across the country. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill also ordered three years of supervised release for 53-year-old Mark Anthony Brown, now serving time in the state prison in Orofino on grand theft and burglary. Brown pleaded guilty in August to two counts of mail fraud. Prosecutors say between 2007 and 2013 he took part in a scheme to fraudulently collect money by getting involved in at least 22 class action and bankruptcy cases. Prosecutors say Brown submitted claim forms to those overseeing case settlements and received part of the proceeds, which were then deposited into his prison account.
The state and several of its largest school districts are at odds about using a new, eight-hour exam on Idaho’s third-through 11th-grade students this spring, Idaho Education News reports; the districts want to rely on other year-end tests, including the SAT – which all Idaho 11th graders already are taking at state expense – rather than go with the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test in a year when it essentially will be just a test of the test, and won’t provide useful student data. You can read reporter Kevin Richert’s full report here.
He notes that the disagreement has nothing to do with the Idaho Core Standards themselves, new math and English language arts standards that are designed to encourage critical thinking and emphasize writing skills. Idaho schools have begun teaching to the standards this year.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Some Republican leaders in Boise have drafted a resolution calling for Rep. Mark Patterson's resignation and may meet on the matter next Tuesday. Officials in District 15, which Patterson represents, say they're still mulling plans to discuss Patterson's future. Dan Luker, District 15's secretary, said the situation remains “fluid” and that no meeting agenda has been finalized. But other District 15 leaders including Sen. Fred Martin are pushing to meet to resolve uncertainty over Patterson's political future one month before the 2014 Legislature. Martin hopes Patterson resigns voluntarily. Patterson has been the focus of attention since his concealed weapons permit was revoked in October by Ada County Sheriff Gary Raney for not disclosing his 1974 guilty plea in a Florida rape case on his application. Patterson couldn't be reached Tuesday.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho and Clearwater counties have filed a federal lawsuit over a Clearwater National Forest travel plan that closed off 200 miles of national forest trails to motorized vehicles, contending the Forest Service didn't adequately consult with local officials when they enacted the plan last year. “We thought we better take a stand,” Clearwater County Commissioner Don Ebert told The Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1bA6PyL). “We get ran over all the time by the Forest Service. We picked a battle where we think we are on solid ground and hope we will prevail.” Click below for a full report from the Lewiston Tribune via the Associated Press.
The personal wealth of Democratic candidate for governor A.J. Balukoff is vast, Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey reports this morning, and Balukoff has been very open about it, including his ability to at least partially self-fund his campaign; he has that in common with current Gov. Butch Otter, a multi-millionaire who in August forgave a $131,000 loan to his own campaign. Popkey reports that Balukoff’s net worth is between $40 million and $50 million; plus, his wife, Susie, one of four heirs to the Skagg’s drugstore fortune, has an inheritance worth $20 million. Popkey’s full report is online here.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: MOSCOW, Idaho (AP) — There's a new interim director of the University of Idaho's marquee public-policy research center that's been beset by leadership turnover. The UI on Monday named Priscilla Salant interim director of the James A. and Louise McClure Center for Public Policy Research. Salant takes over from Marty Peterson, who is retiring for a second time after serving for 20 years as a special assistant to UI's president. Peterson stepped in during 2012 when the former McClure Center director, political science professor David Adler, bolted after two years for a similar post at Boise State University. Before taking this assignment, Salant had led UI's university's outreach and engagement efforts since 2006 at the school's Office of Community Partnerships. The university didn't provide details of its search for a permanent McClure Center leader.
Chris Petersen was introduced as the University of Washington's new head football coach at a press conference today in Seattle; click below for the full AP report. On his departure from Boise State after incredible success - and after years of spurning offers from other schools - Petersen said, “It was just time. We've done some really good things there and I think for me to take the next step as a coach, as a teacher and a person to grow, I needed to take that next step.”
Washington athletic director Scott Woodward said Petersen was the only one offered the job; he'll make $18 million in guaranteed compensation as part of his five-year agreement with available bonuses that could add another $1 million per season. Petersen will make $3.2 million in 2014 with a $200,000 increase each season, topping out at $4 million in 2018. “I think we paid coach Petersen market rate and we're going to be competitive in the market,” Woodward said.
Petersen said he's been overwhelmed by the reaction from those in Boise, comparing it to being eulogized, rather than the bitterness that has accompanied other coaching changes. “It's kind of strange when you read all this stuff. It's almost like you died. It's kind of weird. What I think is my heart and soul has been in Boise so long and they appreciate that and I wasn't going to run out of there for just anything, money or a bigger stadium or anything like that. That's never what I've been about and I think people realize that. I think they realize the timing was right, the fit was right and I think they're good with it because it was truly those things.”
About 75 well-bundled teachers and their supporters gathered on the Statehouse steps this afternoon to rally for improving Idaho schools and press for state lawmakers to enact the 20 recommendations of the governor’s education stakeholders task force, which range from a new teacher career ladder system to restoring funds cut from schools since 2009. “During the recent recession, there were only a handful of states who suffered more severe cuts than Idaho did,” Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr told the crowd. “This cannot continue. … Legislators need to step up and fund our public schools.” She was greeted with cheers from the surprisingly cheerful crowd, which stood amid small clumps of ice and snow, mostly huddled together on one side of the giant Statehouse Christmas tree.
Cyr called the task force plan “a solid step forward for improving education in Idaho.” Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, also got cheers from the crowd when he said, “I’m one of those rare animals that you’ll see around the Statehouse – I’m a Democrat.” He said minority Democrats have “a small voice,” but said, “It’s like going to bed with a mosquito in your bed – you never know how irritating a small person can be.”
Aaron White, of White Electric and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, said he wants his two young sons to get a good education and grow up to find good jobs, all without leaving the state.
Phil McGrane, chief deputy Ada County clerk, has scheduled his announcement for 5 p.m. tomorrow in the first-floor public hearing room at the Ada County Courthouse, 200 W. Front St., as he mulls a race for Idaho Secretary of State. What makes McGrane stand out in what’s shaping up to be a crowded GOP primary for the seat that will open when longtime Secretary of State Ben Ysursa retires: His campaign co-chairs are the county clerks of four Idaho counties, and his campaign committee includes five more county clerks from counties all around the state. Plus, he says the list is growing.
McGrane said county clerks and their deputies – like him – are very interested in seeing Idaho’s elections well-run, as they’re the ones who do the work on the ground in the counties. “When you look at the responsibilities of the Secretary of State’s office, elections are a major component, and a component I think the public cares the most about in the process,” McGrane said. He added, “Many of them reached out to me. We kind of have a united interest in this race.”
He doesn’t think it’s his campaign committee that differentiates him from the group of prospective candidates, however. “I think my experience running elections is what makes my candidacy stand out,” he said. “As far as the people that I’m aware of, I’m the only non-legislator among the group, but I’m also the only person who actually has had time actually running and administering Idaho’s election law.”
One more oddity: McGrane is a national award-winning competitive barbecuer, and a fellow competitor and caterer who runs Spuds BBQ will be providing free BBQ to those who attend McGrane’s announcement.
Others in the race: Former House Speaker Lawerence Denney announced his candidacy even before Ysursa withdrew his. Former state Sen. Mitch Toryanski, R-Boise, and current Rep. Luke Malek, R-Coeur d’Alene, are considering a run. And Rep. Holli High Woodings, D-Boise, told Eye on Boise on Friday that she, too, is considering the race. “It’s something I’ve been thinking about for years,” she said; Woodings said she’ll decide in “the next couple of weeks or so.” Sen. Marv Hagedorn, R-Meridian, considered the race earlier, but decided to seek another Senate term instead.