Idaho’s state tax revenues for November came in $8 million higher than forecast, thanks largely to stronger than expected individual and corporate income tax collections, which were high enough to offset a slightly lower than anticipated sales tax month. The month’s revenue figures were 4.2 percent over forecast. For the fiscal year to date, tax revenues are now almost exactly on forecast, running ahead by $6.5 million, or 0.6 percent. You can see the full monthly General Fund Revenue Report here.
A federal judge has cleared the way for Joseph Duncan’s execution for the 2005 kidnapping, torture and murder of a 9-year-old North Idaho boy, ruling that Duncan was mentally competent when he gave up the right to appeal his death sentence. U.S. District Judge Edward Lodge issued the ruling today, following a six-week competency hearing Lodge presided over in January and February of this year.
There still could be further appeals, but Lodge’s 66-page ruling was a key step toward Duncan’s execution. The Idaho judge ruled that Duncan is “deemed competent to waive his right to appeal in this matter.”
U.S. Attorney for Idaho Wendy Olson said, “The United States is pleased with this careful, considered decision.” Duncan’s murderous attack on a North Idaho family at their home in 2005 left three other family members dead; only 9-year-old Dylan’s then-8-year-old sister, Shasta, survived the ordeal. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Idaho Democrats' choice to run for governor was listed as a Republican five years ago. In 2008, Anthony Joseph “A.J.” Balukoff was named as a Republican backer of then-U.S. House candidate Walt Minnick. Balukoff was among 60 “Republicans for Minnick” during the Democrat's successful run against Bill Sali. In an August 2008 e-mail from Minnick's campaign, Balukoff topped a group that had “supported the Republican Party with time, with money and with votes. And we will continue to do so in this election and in elections to come,” according to the message. Balukoff didn't return a call Friday. Larry Kenck, Idaho Democratic chairman, said he's discussed Balukoff's allegiances and is convinced he's a Democrat with an independent streak. Balukoff didn't choose a party in 2012's primary; he didn't vote.
Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller, which also notes Balukoff's contributions to both Democratic and Republican candidates and causes over the years.
It's official: Boise State is thanking head football coach Chris Petersen for his leadership of the Broncos, and launching a national search for a new head coach. “I know Bronco Nation joins me in thanking Chris Petersen for all he did to advance Boise State’s football program over the past 13 years,” BSU President Bob Kustra said in a statement. “He is not only a great coach but a great person and an asset to the community. We were lucky to have him at Boise State and Washington is lucky to get him. We wish Chris and Barbara the very best.” Click below for the full statement from Kustra and BSU director of athletics Mark Coyle.
Sure, Butch Otter is bringing in big GOP political star Chris Christie for a fundraiser tonight at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, but former House Speaker Lawerence Denney has stars of his own headed to Idaho for a fundraiser for his campaign for Secretary of State: The main characters from the popular “Duck Dynasty” reality show on A&E, who'll talk family values in a stadium show in March and visit with Denney supporters at a VIP reception. “They’re good family-values people and we’re happy to have ‘em coming,” Denney said.
Pulling in out-of-state star power to boost a campaign isn’t uncommon, notes Boise State University emeritus professor Jim Weatherby, especially for a top office like governor. He pointed to presidential candidate Mike Huckabee’s campaigning with movie star Chuck Norris, and declaring that he was “Chuck Norris approved.” Christie “certainly has star power,” Weatherby said. “He’s an excellent speaker and I suspect will draw a big crowd.”
As for Denney’s race, Weatherby said, “It’s a little hard sometimes to get a lot of excitement for some of the elected positions like Secretary of State.”
Denney said he put in an offer to get the famously bearded TV stars to come out, and was surprised when they accepted. He’ll pay them a flat fee, and they’ll present “Happy, Happy, Happy: An Evening with A&E’s Duck Dynasty” at the Idaho Center in Nampa on March 29, 2014. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Boise State head football coach Chris Petersen is leaving for the University of Washington, the AP reports this morning. Petersen will replace Steve Sarkisian, who's headed to USC. Click below for the full AP report. The Idaho Statesman has a full report here, which notes that Petersen is scheduled to make $2,348,000 in 2014, has five years left on his contract, which extends each time he wins eight games, and has a $750,000 buyout. The Statesman also reports that he is contractually obligated to coach the Broncos in their bowl game even if he takes another job “to minimize the impact on the program.”
Idaho Press-Tribune Managing Editor Vickie Holbrook is leaving the newspaper business after more than 34 years at the newspaper, and will become public information officer for the city of Nampa under incoming Mayor Bob Henry on Jan. 6, the Press-Tribune reports today. Holbrook’s career at the Press-Tribune spanned the ranks from cub reporter to top editor. Press-Tribune Publisher Matt Davison called Holbrook an “exceptional editor” and said the staff will miss her greatly.
“One of Vickie’s greatest strengths has been her unique ability to teach others how to be a successful journalist,” Davison said. “There are dozens of reporters spread across the entire country who will always remember the lessons Vickie taught them.” The Press-Tribune’s full report is online here.
Two Priest Lake cabin owners were outbid for their leases on the state land under their Idaho cabins on Thursday - including one who has at least five ancestors' remains buried on the site. The family is hoping to overturn the results of the auction through its pending lawsuit, and their Spokane attorney said he was surprised the state went ahead with the auction; state lands officials said there was nothing legally to stop it.
“Because there was no injunction filed, there was nothing that would preclude it moving forward,” said Idaho Department of Lands spokeswoman Emily Callihan. “We have a legal obligation to put expiring cottage site leases up for advertisement. If somebody other than the current lessee emerges who’s interested in acquiring that, we have to hold the auction.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Former Democratic 1st District congressional candidate Jimmy Farris announced today that he's running for a seat in the Idaho Legislature, seeking to fill House seat that will open when Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, shifts to a run for the Senate as Sen. Les Bock, D-Boise, retires. “This district has had incredible representation over the years, and it’s important that we maintain that strong leadership with a representative who will continue to focus on the needs and interests of not only District 16, but the entire state of Idaho,” Farris said in a statement. Farris, a Lewiston native and former NFL football player, took 30.8 percent of the vote in his run against GOP Rep. Raul Labrador in 2012; it was his first run for office. Click below for his full announcement.
Burgoyne said he's planning a formal announcement of his Senate run early next week, but said, “It's not a secret.”
Two Priest Lake cabin owners have been outbid for the right to keep their leases on the state land under their lake cabins, meaning they’ll lose them, and the successful bidders will have to pay them for the appraised value of the improvements. Denver resident Peter Mounsey was the successful bidder for a cabin site that had been held by Jan Nunemaker in the Powerline subdivision; he bid $2,000, while she bid only the minimum $1,000 to keep the lease. Mounsey will have to pay Nunemaker the $38,500 appraised value of her cabin. He also had to pay the first year’s rent for the ground, $22,880, to the state in advance.
In the other auction, James Hollingsworth outbid relative Graham Sharman in a bidding war over a cabin site in the Pinto Point subdivision; Hollingsworth’s winning premium bid was $30,000 to secure the lease. Hollingsworth will have to pay Sharman the $132,000 appraised value of the cabin; the annual rent for the ground underneath it is $21,720, which Hollingsworth was required to pay the state in advance.
A third conflict auction also was held this week for a cabin site at Payette Lake in McCall; there, too, the current lessee was outbid. Brady Peterson of Eagle won that auction with a premium bid of $6,000, after current lessee and Oregon resident Michele Cahill stopped at $5,000. In that case, the improvements were found to have zero value, so Peterson won’t have to pay Cahill. He paid the first year’s rent of $920 to the state in advance; the lot, in the Agate subdivision, isn’t on the lakefront like the Priest Lake sites.
Idaho's 2nd District congressional race is back in the national news this morning, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce launches ads backing Congressman Mike Simpson and two West Virginia Republicans; the AP reports that business groups are increasingly stepping up to back pro-business Republicans against tea party backed challengers. Simpson faces a challenge from Idaho Falls attorney Bryan Smith, who's being backed by the Club for Growth, the same national group that promoted former GOP Idaho Congressman Bill Sali when he won a multi-way primary before serving a single term in Idaho's 1st District congressional seat.
In response to the news of the Chamber's pro-Simpson ad, the Club For Growth sent out a press release this morning headed, “Mike Simpson's Pro-Bailout, Pro-Obama Stimulus Pro-Debt Allies Try to Save His Flailing Candidacy,” sharply criticizing the Chamber. Simpson is an eighth-term Republican congressman, a dentist, and the former speaker of the Idaho House; click below for the national AP story about the U.S Chamber's move.
Tragic news from the roads this morning, as one child has been killed and four injured when a dump truck crashed into a school bus in Canyon County this morning headed for a Kuna elementary school. The AP reports that 12 children in the sixth grade or younger were on the bus bound for Crimson Point Elementary School; an 11-year-old boy died. Idaho State Police Sgt. John Burke said it's too early to determine what went wrong. “It's a horrible … it's a terrible thing,” Burke told the AP. “The family (of the deceased child) is devastated. They need our prayers and all we can do is hope they can get through it.” Click below for the full report from the AP.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — A report from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the Idaho Department of Agriculture spotted moldy yogurt during a routine inspection at a Chobani facility in Twin Falls two months before the company issued a voluntary recall. The Times-News (http://bit.ly/IFRbGB ) obtained the report under a Freedom of Information Act request. More than 300 people reportedly got sick after consuming the moldy Greek yogurt. The state denies the FDA's claim. ISDA spokeswoman Pamela Juker says state regulators never took note of mold during the July inspection. The FDA report says a lab technician spotted visible defects and found a yeast-like growth after testing the samples taken by the state. Chobani officials say the company's goal is to ensure the Idaho facility is a leader in size, cleanliness, quality and safety.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on the rare moment of bipartisanship on school reform in Idaho that occurred today, as Democratic state lawmakers unveiled four far-reaching bills Wednesday, and GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna endorsed them. Within hours, GOP Gov. Butch Otter and House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, also had encouraging words about the Democrats’ bills, which would enact into law the 20 recommendations from a task force that Otter appointed to chart the future of education reform in Idaho. Those items range from restoring $82 million a year in operational funds cut from the schools in recent years’ budget cuts, to new ways to determine when students should advance to the next grade; here’s a link to the full task force recommendations.
Some of Idaho's 44 counties are sweetening their jury-duty pot after the Legislature quintupled a 45-year-old cap on what panelists may be paid for deciding an accused's innocence or guilt, the AP reports today. But in the process, jury per diem payments across Idaho are becoming a patchwork, with some county officials sticking to the existing $10 rate, set back in 1968, while others have hiked it to the new limit, $50. Click below for the full article from AP reporter John Miller.
Here's a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The troubled rollout of insurance exchanges in Idaho and elsewhere has prompted the federal government to delay another deadline, this time giving prospective enrollees more time to get coverage before it goes into effect Jan. 1. Your Health Idaho enrollees will have until Dec. 23, back from Dec. 15, to select a plan in order to be insured by the New Year. Amy Dowd, Idaho's exchange director, says this new deadline gives people more time to make a choice about their coverage, required under President Obama's 2010 health care overhaul. Dowd also said in a statement the federal online application form Idaho is using has been improved and is functioning better. Even so, additional improvements are still in the works to remedy the problem-plagued launch of exchanges since Oct. 1.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter says he’s working on a five-year plan to implement the recommendations of his education stakeholders task force. But asked about legislation unveiled by Democratic lawmakers today to adopt all the recommendations into law as a framework for the state, Otter said, “I think it’s great. Basically, I’m taking their (the task force's) framework and I’m putting it into a road map.”
Otter, speaking to the Idaho Tribes Summit this morning, said, “I’m going to be as aggressive as I can, but it’s going to take five years, I believe, in order to put another $270 million into education.” That’s the total price tag for the recommendations less the $82 million that’s just restoring past cuts – so it’s the “new money,” he said. “Getting that money back is going to take a couple years, but it’s high on our agenda. It’s a total bill of $350 million bucks. I think it’s doable, but I think it’s only doable over five years.”
Otter said in his plan, “I feel confident in being able to write that first year … in ink, but the next four years I’ll probably write that in pencil.” He said he’ll want schools to preserve efficiencies they’ve developed during the years of cutbacks, including a $3.8 million annual savings from energy-efficiency improvements ranging from upgraded lightbulbs to new windows and improvements to boilers. “I don’t want to lose those efficiencies,” he said.
Asked if education reform can be a bipartisan issue in Idaho – after the tumult and rancor over the voter-rejected GOP “Students Come First” school reform laws – Otter said “I think it’s got to. I think it could and I think it should.” With the economy turning around, he said, “Right now we’ve all got a chance to make it a bipartisan issue.”
House Speaker Scott Bedke, asked about today’s unveiling of four bills to implement the 20 recommendations of the governor’s school reform task force by Democratic lawmakers – with support from GOP state schools chief Tom Luna – said, “I’m encouraged by that.” Bedke said, “Over time, I think we can do that. And I think everybody’s pretty committed to that.”
Idaho House and Senate Democrats were joined by GOP state schools Superintendent Tom Luna today as they unveiled four bills designed to implement the 20 recommendations of Gov. Butch Otter’s education stakeholders task force. Both the Dems and Luna said it’s time for improving Idaho’s schools to become a bipartisan issue in the state. “What resulted from this group’s efforts was a bipartisan set of recommendations,” said Rep. Janie Ward-Engleking, D-Boise, who served on the task force. “I know what kind of research, compromise and collaboration went into the recommendations.”
She said, “Our bills provide a framework to implement these recommendations. We certainly know we can’t do everything totally in one year, but we can put that framework in place and begin.” The four bills address the 20 recommendations with one exception, the Idaho Core Standards, the state’s version of Common Core standards for student achievement, because the Legislature already approved that in 2011.
Sen. Elliot Werk, D-Boise, said, “This isn’t a partisan issue. We all know that we need to work together. The public expects us to work together.” Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, said, “We’re open to all suggestions. We’re open to anybody else that’s got bills. We’d like to talk with them. When this process is finished, we’d like to have a consensus piece of legislation that is going to pass the House and the Senate and be signed by the governor.”
Luna said he met with the Democratic legislators several times and made suggestions that were included as the bills were drafted. “I think what we have here is something we’ve been looking and searching for for some time, for years, and that is bipartisan support and recognition that we have to do more for our children as we prepare them for the world,” Luna said. “This is a huge step forward, as it creates the bipartisan support for education reform that we’ve wanted, but it’s been elusive.”
Luna’s “Students Come First” school reform laws, which included rolling back teachers’ collective bargaining rights and a new focus on online learning, passed the Legislature without a single Democratic vote; voters resoundingly rejected the laws in the 2012 election.
Gov. Butch Otter, who had backed the rejected laws, then appointed a 31-member task force drawing from all sides in the education reform debate, and it proposed the 20 recommendations. They range from restoring $82 million a year in operational funds cut from the schools in recent years’ budget cuts, to new ways to determine when students should advance to the next grade. A teacher career ladder would bring big pay increases along with a new tiered licensing program, and the state would step up classroom technology, teacher mentoring and training, advanced opportunities for students and more.
Burgoyne said, “This legislation does not set timetables. It says these are the goals that the state of Idaho seeks to achieve. It gives specific authorization for rule-making. It directs, in some cases, that the germane people return to us for proposed legislation for specific implementation.” Said Luna, “I think it’s a very positive day.”
The Idaho Legislature's Federal Lands Interim Committee is taking public testimony this morning on proposals to have the state take over title to federal public lands. So far, most has been solidly against the idea. Opponents expressed concerns over Idaho’s vast public land being sold off to private owners; an economist said the state of Idaho would incur billions in costs that it can’t afford; and a foresters association expressed concern over road management costs the state would take on.
An exception was Russ Smerz, an unpaid lobbyist for Tea Party Boise who said he was speaking for “23 different liberty groups around the state of Idaho,” including 14 tea party groups, the John Birch Society, the Idaho Freedom Foundation, Idaho Open Carry and more. “We do support the transfer of federal lands to the state,” he told the committee. “Basically it’s increased school funding, better managed by the state than the feds, and the historical precedent that has been set by the eastern states.” Jeff Wright of Boise County spoke in favor of transfer; he said his county is 90 percent federally owned. “We can’t develop an economy because we’re not allowed to,” he said. “I think it’s time that Idaho took control of their own destiny.”
Buster Gibson, vice chair of the Shoshone-Paiute Tribes, spoke against the move. “I come from a long line of leaders and we do not have a settlement or a treaty with the federal government,” he told the committee. “Land title for southwestern Idaho has never been transferred to the United States. … That is our land, my people’s land. It has not been patented and we do not want the state of Idaho to manage it for us. We want the federal government to continue the management or to give it back to us and compensate us for it. We still hold Indian title to this land and that’s where our relationship to the federal government stands; it’s not to the state of Idaho government. … You have no right to take this land or to manage it. You’ll leave us with two options: We can fight you in federal court, or we’ll fight you in the nation’s capitol.”
Jack Trueblood told the lawmakers, “I fear the ultimate result would be the sale of much of those lands, and there’s nothing that restricts access like a no-trespassing sign.” The committee has another public comment period set for 1:30 to 2:40 p.m. today, as part of its all-day meeting in the Lincoln Auditorium in the state Capitol, which also includes a series of presentations. You can listen live here.