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Eye On Boise

Archive for August 2005

Another property tax initiative

A retired physician and former state epidemiologist filed his own property tax limiting initiative on Tuesday, seeking to cap taxes and values just for the primary homes of Idaho residents – whether they’re homeowners or renters. “We’re not talking about rich people and second homes and stuff like that, we’re talking about the primary residence of an Idaho resident,” said Fritz Dixon of Meridian. “Now whether that’ll stand constitutional muster, I don’t know.”

Dixon submitted his one-page initiative to the Secretary of State’s office on Tuesday, and it was forwarded to the Idaho Attorney General’s office for review. Already on review there is another property tax-limiting initiative that runs nearly 100 pages, seeking to cap property taxes for all types of property at 1 percent of value, to freeze and then cap values, and to make a series of other changes in state tax laws.

Dixon’s measure would limit tax on “real property used as the primary residence of an Idaho residence” to 1 percent of value, and those values would be capped at 2002 levels and allowed to rise no more than 2 percent a year unless ownership changed. At sale, the value would go to the sale price. It also throws in some other changes: A two-thirds vote of all members of each house of the Legislature would be required to raise any tax; lawmakers would be forbidden from imposing a real estate transfer tax; cities, counties and special districts would get local-option tax authority with a two-thirds vote; bond elections could be held only at general elections; and all ads about proposed bonds would have to specify interest costs.

“Mine’s one page, because people actually are supposed to read it before they sign it,” Dixon said. “If the other organization doesn’t get their 100-pager passed, and there’s another that gets past the attorney general, maybe they’ll say ‘yours is better than one that didn’t fly.’” The Attorney General’s office has 20 working days to review the proposed initiative.

Must be the rain?

Every state but Oregon saw its residents get fatter last year, according to a report from the University of Baltimore Obesity Initiative, with obesity rates on the rise across the nation. To add insult to injury, the initiative gave Idaho an “F” for its state efforts to control obesity, while Washington got a “B.” Even slimming Oregon didn’t fare well in those grades, pulling only a “C.”

But the same research project actually found that Idahoans overall aren’t as overweight as the populations in many states. Idaho ranked 27th for its obesity rate – Colorado, at 50th, had the lowest incidence of obesity (um, maybe it’s the mountains? the altitude?). Washington surpassed Idaho with a ranking of 39th, but Oregon, despite its enviable progress last year, is back in the pack at 22nd.

He felt the bumps

It seems a little odd that President Bush acknowledged two mayors during his speech in Nampa this week – Nampa Mayor Tom Dale and Boise Mayor David Bieter – but he only criticized Dale, who happens to be the Republican (Bieter is a former Democratic legislator), not to mention one seeking re-election. The president said, “I want to thank Mayor Tom Dale of Nampa. I appreciate you, Mr. Mayor. (Applause.) Mr. Mayor — he didn’t ask for any advice, but I’ll give you some anyway — fill the potholes. (Laughter.) I want to thank Mayor David Bieter of the city of Boise, for joining us. Mr. Mayor, thank you. Thanks for your hospitality. (Applause.) Appreciate you being here.”

Word is that Dale has acknowledged that the president may actually have felt a few pothole-related bumps in the road on his way in to the Idaho Center in Nampa.

Reactions to the Prez

Here are two different reactions to the president’s speech in Nampa, one from a Republican congressional candidate, the other from a Democratic state legislator:

Former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen, R-Boise, who is among a half-dozen Republicans seeking the 1st District congressional seat, said, “The President was on the mark with his address today in Nampa. He’s showing strong leadership at a time when our country needs it the most. Terrorism is not going away until we make it go away, and right now the battleground is in Iraq. To get a sense of terrorism in action – and what we are fighting against – all you have to do is listen to the news or read the newspapers. Iraq is a beehive for terrorism activity. What makes the terrorists so dangerous is they have no regard for human life, including their own. You still hear debate on whether we should be there. But the rules changed when terrorists slammed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. I trust the President. He’s making the right decisions for America.”

State Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, said Democrats have long suspected that the president has no plans and no intention to bring American troops home from the fighting in Iraq, and that he confirmed that in his speech. “Bush flatly said that so long as he is president, U.S. troops will stay in Iraq,” said a press release from the Idaho Democratic Party and LeFavour. “Some people who attended the speech were stunned that the president would make such a statement to the families of soldiers without offering any idea about when or how America will win the peace and bring our troops home.” LeFavour, who attended the speech, said, “He doesn’t know what else to do besides continuing to throw lives at the conflict. He doesn’t have any other plan — no diplomatic alternative, no exit strategy.”

Everything he said under the trees

The White House has posted a complete transcript on the Internet of President Bush’s 12-minute press conference this morning at Tamarack Resort, in which he talked about how glad he is to be in Idaho and about his speech on the war on terror tomorrow, and answered questions on everything from developments in the Middle East to his bike-riding plans for the afternoon. There’s even a photo.

‘Desperately seeking friendly ground’

Idaho’s Democratic Party is accusing President Bush of “desperately seeking friendly ground” in his current visit to Idaho, what with his approval ratings down and concern over the nation’s war deaths in Iraq getting widespread attention, sparked by grieving mom and protester Cindy Sheehan.

The president can expect a welcoming crowd at the Idaho Center for his speech on the war on terror tomorrow – two-thirds of the tickets went to Idaho military members and their families, and one-third went to Gov. Dirk Kempthorne and Idaho’s all-Republican congressional delegation, who distributed them to supporters and dignitaries. The Idaho National Guard is in the midst of its largest deployment ever, and has nearly 2,000 of its members currently serving in Iraq.

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings, in a press release today, said the president will appear “before a crowd of carefully selected military families and political friends.”

The president reportedly also will hold more than two hours of private meetings with relatives of dead soldiers after his Nampa speech. It was in a similar series of meetings that he met with Sheehan last year; she has since demanded a second meeting, which the president has declined.

President is ‘hanging loose’

President Bush told reporters, “I’m kind of hanging loose, as they say,” before he took off this afternoon on a mountain bike ride around a loop at Tamarack Resort. The very-fit Bush reportedly outstripped Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who couldn’t always keep up. Then, around 4 p.m., the Bushes and the Kempthornes headed out on Lake Cascade in a pontoon boat stocked with fishing gear.

Said in Salt Lake

President Bush’s speech today in Salt Lake City sounded themes we’re likely to hear again on Wednesday when he speaks on the war on terror at the Idaho Center in Nampa. Here’s an AP account of his remarks this morning at the Veterans of Foreign Wars annual convention: “President Bush compared the fight against terrorism to both world wars and other great conflicts of the 20th century as he tried to reassure an increasingly skeptical public on Monday to support U.S. military involvement in Iraq. With the anti-war movement finding new momentum behind grieving mother Cindy Sheehan, Bush acknowledged the fighting in Iraq is difficult and dangerous. But he told the Veterans of Foreign Wars national convention the fight is necessary to keep terrorists out of the United States. As he did in last year’s election campaign and more recently as war opposition has risen, Bush reminded his listeners of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 – reciting the date five times in a 30-minute speech. “We’re not yet safe,” Bush said. “Terrorists in foreign lands still hope to attack our country. They still hope to kill our citizens. The lesson of Sept. 11, 2001, is that we must confront threats before they fully materialize.”

Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson, an anti-war Democrat, was booed during remarks to the veterans groups two hours before Bush spoke, the AP reported. Anderson later addressed hundreds gathered at an anti-war rally three blocks away.

The White House press office says Bush’s speech in Idaho on Wednesday will start at 11:10 a.m. and likely last 45 to 50 minutes.

Getting into the act

What with President Bush in Idaho, folks of all political stripes are getting into the act – from a “Potatoes for Peace” performance at an anti-war rally planned for Tuesday evening across from the state capitol, to an announcement from Trout Unlimited that the president will be fishing with Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, illustrating “how important roadless lands are to Idaho’s wild fish and to Idaho anglers,” to the president’s own rally Wednesday for the troops and their families in Nampa, his only planned public appearance during his visit to Idaho. The president is planning to give a speech on the war on terror at the Wednesday rally.

At the Tuesday evening anti-war rally, organizers say “Potatoes for Peace” will give their debut performance. So what are they? Apparently they’re five folks in spud costumes who sing. Here’s a sample from their song script:

“We’re Idaho potatoes and we’re here to say, George Bush, you must end this war today. Bring allll our troops back home to I-daho, So they can all eat a baked po-tay-to.”

The Idaho Peace Coalition, sponsor of the rally, also will hold a memorial for Iraq war casualties Tuesday at noon at Capitol Park in Boise.

Trout Unlimited western field coordinator Scott Stouder, who is based in Riggins, said his group read in the Washington Post that the president would be fishing for wild trout with Kempthorne and bicycling in Donnelly today and tomorrow – and that means he’d be benefiting from Idaho’s roadless areas. “Any wild trout that he catches will either have been born in a roadless area or in water supplied by a roadless area,” Stouder said. “Frankly, I don’t know if he realizes that or not.”

Stouder said Trout Unlimited is thrilled that Bush will fish for wild trout, rather than just, say, sit in Boise and eat potatoes. “The fact that he’s coming to Idaho and recognizes this irreplaceable value of wild fish habitat is really important to us.”

Kempthorne attended the president’s speech in Salt Lake City this morning, then flew with the president into Gowen Field in Boise, landing around 1:30 p.m. today. Kempthorne and wife Patricia then boarded Marine One, the designation for a helicopter carrying the president, along with Bush and headed for Donnelly.

He knows how to bring ‘em in here

Carl Wilgus, Idaho’s tourism chief at the state Dept. of Commerce & Labor, has been named state tourism director of the year by the Travel Industry Association of America - surprising no one. Idaho’s tourism growth recently picked up to pre-Sept. 11 levels, and tourism in the state has grown 350 percent since Wilgus started as state tourism director in 1987. He’s the second-longest tenured tourism director in the nation.

No giggling in the gaggle

Following are excerpts from the transcript of today’s White House “press gaggle,” which apparently is when a gaggle of press types gather around a White House spokesperson for a few announcements and a little Q & A, or at least I’m guessing that’s what it is. Sen. Larry Craig got the transcript from the White House and passed the excerpts on to Idaho media because of the talk of President Bush’s upcoming visit to Idaho. Here it is:

THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of the Press Secretary
(Crawford, Texas)
_______________________________________

For Immediate Release - August 16, 2005

PRESS GAGGLE

WITH

DANA PERINO

Crawford Middle School

Crawford, Texas

11:25 A.M. CDT

MS. PERINO: Good morning. I’ll give you a little bit about the President’s day, and then I’m going to give you a little bit of an update on next week.
The President had his intelligence briefing this morning. He continues to get regular updates on the foreign policy developments. He’s been spending some time outdoors at his ranch, improving the land, of which, as you know, he takes great pride in, and spending time with Mrs. Bush and family friends throughout the week.
For next week, a couple of you have asked for some specifics. On Monday, August 22nd, the President will make remarks to the Veterans of foreign Wars National Convention that’s being held in Salt Lake City, Utah; open press. He will remain overnight in Donnelly, Idaho.
Tuesday, there are no public events, still he will be in Donnelly, Idaho. And Wednesday, August 24th, the President will make remarks on the war on terror, and that’s in Nampa, Idaho. And then he’ll return to the ranch that night.
With that, I’ll happily take your questions.

Q: What’s in Donnelly? What’s he doing in Donnelly?

MS. PERINO: I’ll see if I can get some more on that. I don’t know.

Q: Is that a recreational stop, Donnelly?

MS. PERINO: I’ll see what I can find for you. I don’t have it right now…

…Q Dana, can you tell — I’m sorry, the overnight is Donnelly,
Idaho, on Tuesday night, or Monday night?

MS. PERINO: On Monday and Tuesday night.

Q In the same place, Donnelly, Idaho. Do you know how far that
is from Boise?

MS. PERINO: I don’t know how far that is from Boise, but I can — we can look at a map and try to figure it out.

Q I am, I can’t find it. Okay. And Tuesday, he has no public
schedule in Donnelly?

MS. PERINO: No, ma’am.

Q Well, he must be doing something. Is he fishing with the Vice
President?

MS. PERINO: This is all the information I have right now, and I can see if I can get you some more.

Q Is there a vice presidential component to this trip? You
don’t know.

MS. PERINO: The Vice President? No, I don’t believe so. I think
— no…

They’re not sayin’

The IRS, through a press spokeswoman in Seattle, declined to comment on whether the agency received Idaho Demo Chair Richard Stallings’ letter requesting an inquiry into campaign spending practices in Idaho like Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s, or to give any response. The reason? They don’t comment on “individual taxpayer correspondence.” Stallings says when he gets a response, he’ll make it public.

Could it be taxable?

Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Richard Stallings has written a formal letter to the IRS asking whether, if a public official spends campaign money for personal expenses, that money becomes taxable income.

Attached to his Aug. 12 letter were copies of Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s latest campaign finance report and of newspaper articles about the report. “It would appear that a significant number of the expenditures are of a particularly personal nature,” Stallings wrote to Mark W. Everson, commissioner of the IRS. He cited a December, 2004 expenditure of $81.70 at a bookstore at Sun Valley; a $173 charge at the U.S. Senate gift shop in January; a charge for flowers in Boise in February; a $3.98 charge at Starbucks in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 27; and charges at Boise stores including Ridley’s grocery story, Idaho Camera and the Chocolate Bar, a downtown sweetshop.

“The issue, Commissioner Everson, is this: are such obviously personal expenditures when financed by a third party or parties, in this case campaign contributions, subject to federal taxation? I am under the impression that when an individual is able to supplement his or her personal income, from whatever source, and then utilize those resources for personal benefit, that such income must be reported to the IRS and would be subject to federal and state income tax laws,” wrote Stallings, a former four-term Idaho congressman.

Stallings requested an IRS review, and “in order to inform the citizens of Idaho, a statement as to whether such expenditures, which are claimed as a legitimate function of a public officeholder are, in fact, in compliance with federal tax law.”

Bogert to head EPA region

L. Michael Bogert, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s top lawyer for five years who also made an unsuccessful run for Idaho Attorney General, has been named the new administrator of the EPA’s Region 10, which includes Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Alaska.

Bogert will take over from acting regional administrator Ron Kreizenbeck, a 30-plus year veteran of the agency, who has filled the job since July of 2004 and now will become deputy regional administrator.

Presidential visit

About the oddest thing about President George W. Bush’s plans to visit Idaho later this month is that he hasn’t come sooner. Never, once, has this two-term Republican president visited the state with an all-Republican congressional delegation that’s given him more than two-thirds of its vote both times he ran.

The Idaho Statesman reported this morning that Bush may spend a couple of days vacationing in McCall and also apparently will hold a rally at the Idaho Center for military troops and their families the week after next. Today, the White House confirmed to the Associated Press that Bush will make his first visit to Idaho since taking office this month, but offered no more details.

Meanwhile, Vice Prez Dick Cheney, who’s shown up here often, is scheduled to attend a fundraiser for Sen. Larry Craig in Boise on Monday.

Slush funds ‘the norm’

You can see Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s latest campaign finance report for yourself here; the governor, who is not running for re-election, has drawn criticism for using his campaign account, in part, for lunches out, flowers, candy, travel and gifts. But University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, a noted expert on campaign finance, says, “Almost all governors have these funds now. … They’re slush funds of a certain sort, they really are. And they’re used by public officials for virtually everything under the sun.”

Sabato said Richard Nixon almost was removed from the Eisenhower presidential ticket back in 1952 when a similar fund was discovered, and it was “far more legitimate than many of these slush funds today that governors and senators and congressmen have. But it’s the norm.”

Sabato said across the nation, public officials have used their campaign funds for everything from babysitting to meals and cars to wives’ trips to beauty parlors. “I’m not saying it’s right, I’m saying it’s the norm,” he said. “They’re all able to raise loads of money, they’re all able to make their lives easier accordingly.”

There’s no easy fix for it, Sabato said. “I believe legislation in this area is almost always doomed to failure. There’s always another way to do it, there’s always another IRS provision that can be utilized to form a committee or a commission or something that handles your needs. Public disclosure is the only option.”

Idaho’s requirement that such spending be disclosed is the best way to approach the issue, Sabato said. “He’s required to disclose, he did disclose. … Now it’s up to the people.”

Major change in Boise media scene

Wow, I only left town for a week – to enjoy my vacation windsurfing in the beautiful Columbia River Gorge – and when I returned, the Boise news media world had been shaken to its core. The big news: The sale of the Idaho Statesman newspaper by Gannett Corp. to Knight Ridder.

Gannett is the largest, and most profitable, newspaper company in the nation, most famous for its national newspaper, USA Today. It acquired the Statesman in 1971. Knight Ridder is the nation’s second-largest newspaper company, known for such newspapers as the Miami Herald, the Philadelphia Inquirer and the San Jose Mercury News. Knight Ridder is trading the Tallahassee Democrat in Florida and an undisclosed amount of cash for three Gannett-owned Northwest newspapers: The Statesman, the Olympian, and the Bellingham Herald in Washington.

Statesman Publisher Leslie Hurst will become publisher at the Gannett-owned State Journal in Lansing, Mich., while Knight Ridder’s vice president of marketing, Michael Petrak, 47, a former general manager of the Kansas City Star, will be the new Statesman publisher in Boise. Statesman employees were informed of the surprise deal last Wednesday, and on Thursday, Knight Ridder Chairman and CEO Tony Ridder was in Boise, touring the Statesman plant, meeting the employees and shaking hands.

Initial word is that Knight Ridder is impressed with the profitable Statesman, and doesn’t plan big changes right off. A key unknown, however, is whether the Statesman’s top editors, who work directly for Gannett, will leave the company to remain at the Statesman or move on to other Gannett properties.

Just as Gannett wanted to increase its presence in Florida, Knight Ridder clearly found the Statesman attractive. Ridder said in a statement, “As we continue to review our portfolio of newspapers, other print products, Internet sites and investments, we are constantly impressed by the performance of our mid-sized and smaller newspapers – especially those in growth areas. This exchange gives us the opportunity to add three newspapers in robust western markets. Each one performs strongly; together, they will make a very solid addition to our existing lineup.”

In a separate deal, Knight Ridder also sold the Detroit Free Press to Gannett, and Gannett sold the Detroit News to MediaNews Group Inc., the company headed by Dean Singleton.

Knight Ridder enjoys a solid reputation among journalists, and it’ll be interesting to see how the ownership change affects the newspaper. In addition to its other holdings, Knight Ridder owns 49.5 percent of the Seattle Times Co., and an array of Internet properties including RealCities.com. The deal still must undergo regulatory review, and could be finalized by early September.

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About this blog

Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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