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Eye On Boise

Archive for December 2005

Bogus Basin reopens

In a surprise announcement this morning, Bogus Basin ski area reopened – after shutting down for several days after a rain-out and disappointing a valley-full of kids off from school and others ready for some holiday-week skiing. The resort got 2 to 4 inches of new snow, and just made the call this morning to reopen. A big storm is expected tomorrow, so the non-profit ski resort should be back onto the winter track now – and its biggest money-making week of the year may be saved.

We’re growing fast, and it shows

Idaho is the now the nation’s third-fastest growing state, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau population estimates. To hit that rank, we added 33,956 new residents in the past year. And judging by the traffic around the Boise Towne Square mall today, they’re all out doing last-minute shopping. It may appear to be a busy freeway at rush hour, but that’s actually just the mall parking lot.

Both sides praise school lawsuit ruling

Both sides are praising the Idaho Supreme Court’s ruling in the long-running school funding lawsuit today, though the court sided with school districts who sued the state.

“I’m not surprised by the opinion at all – in fact, I think it was a very friendly opinion by the court,” said House Speaker Bruce Newcomb. “I think it gave everybody direction.”

Newcomb, R-Burley, said the justices ruled clearly that the Legislature has to do more to fund school construction. “It says the property taxes aren’t enough, aren’t sufficient, and we’ve known that for a long time,” he said.

In fact, Idaho has long been one of the toughest states in the nation in which to build a school, because it both relies almost entirely on local property taxes to pay for construction, and requires local voters to vote by a two-thirds supermajority to raise their own taxes in order to pass a school construction bond. The idea of adding state funds to the local property taxes has been a controversial one; lawmakers have approved some temporary programs to help some school districts in recent years, but haven’t continued funding them.

“We’re off dead center now,” Newcomb said. “Both sides have got to step to the table on this one.”

Robert Huntley, the former Idaho Supreme Court justice who represented school districts in the lawsuit, said in a statement, “The decision of the Idaho Supreme Court is a positive step forward for the benefit of all of the people of Idaho, especially Idaho’s school children and their families. … We look forward to a productive relationship with the Office of the Governor and the members of the Idaho Legislature. We expect to achieve a ‘win-win’ package of legislation to meet the mandate of constitutionality … as affirmed by the Idaho Supreme Court.”

Residential share is even higher now

The latest figures are out from the Idaho Tax Commission, and Idaho’s property taxes have continued their sharp shift onto residential property. The share of property tax paid by owners of residential property rose to 63.2 percent in 2005, up from 61.6 percent in 2004 and from 47.1 percent in 1990. Meanwhile, the share paid by other categories of property has continued to fall. Here are the figures:

Commercial property now pays 27.9 percent of property taxes, down from 28.7 percent last year. It was 33.2 percent in 1990.

Ag land accounts for 4 percent of property taxes today, down from 4.2 percent last year and 10.1 percent in 1990.

Timber property pays 0.7 percent of property taxes, down from 0.9 percent last year and 1 percent in 1990. Mining held steady at 0.3 percent, the same as last year and down from 0.7 percent in 1990. Utility property now pays 3.9 percent of property taxes in the state, down from 4.4 percent last year and 7.9 percent in 1990.

These numbers will be key as the Legislature convenes in a few weeks and considers a major proposal from an interim committee to increase the homeowner’s exemption, a move long opposed by business groups.

Congressman responds

Here’s Otter’s response. He doesn’t say anything about the impact of his public land-sale bill on hunting, fishing, or other public access.

“I find it interesting that, at a time when many local governments are struggling to make ends meet, some would oppose an effort to restore to local property tax rolls and Idaho-based stewardship some carefully selected parcels of the nearly two-thirds of Idaho that is controlled – and too often locked up from multiple use – by the federal government. Even as an absentee landlord, the federal government has a responsibility to pay its fair share. This proposal is a responsible option to consider when counties in Idaho routinely are shortchanged by millions of dollars on PILT payments and the government is failing to maintain such facilities as the backcountry airstrips needed for emergency response. It also might be worth asking where the criticism was when the federal government sold large portions of the Boise Foothills to the city of Boise. Are such transfers only valid when they are proposed by self-appointed conservationists, and not by those who espouse the broader concept of multiple-use stewardship?”

They got him on that one

Sen. Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, is known for his lawyerly manner of speaking and often going into elaborate detail about minor points, occasionally with tongue in cheek. Thus, it was in character today when, as he was moving to approve the minutes at a meeting of a leadership committee on capitol restoration, he objected.

“Everywhere Sen. Stegner’s name appears, ‘Stegner’ always gets bolded,” Davis complained, noting that the same was not always true when his name appeared in the minutes. “I would hate history to remember him as more bold than I,” Davis declaimed, and moved to approve the minutes with either the bold-face removed, or bold-face distributed equally to all lawmakers’ names. But Davis was the only one to vote for his motion – Stegner and Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, voted no. Stegner then quickly moved to approve the minutes as written, Jaquet seconded the motion, and it passed with one dissenting vote – from Davis.

Wild Transportation Board meeting

There were some interesting moments at the Idaho Transportation Board meeting on Wednesday, which was uncharacteristically packed – every seat taken, including rows of extra chairs lined up along both sides and the back, and it’s a big, theater-style meeting room to begin with.

It was the meeting where the board voted to rescind its award of the contract to oversee the huge “Connecting Idaho” program to Boise-based WGI, and instead re-interview both bidders under stricter guidelines laid out by the Federal Highway Administration. Much of the concern centered around the board’s comments at its Oct. 27 meeting that it was choosing WGI over New York-based Parsons Brinckerhoff – though its nine-member technical evaluation committee unanimously recommended Parsons Brinckerhoff get the contract – in part because WGI is a local company that supports the Idaho economy. Federal rules prohibit favoring local firms – a point PB made when it sued, challenging the contract award.

Now, PB has agreed to drop its lawsuit and both companies have agreed not to challenge the decision the board makes after its second, more careful decision process (to take place entirely in open meetings). But when board members asked the two companies’ representatives whether Jan. 6th would work for them for the new interviews, Dave Butzier, program manager for WGI, stood and declared loudly, “We can make it the 6th, or next week – we all live here!” That prompted a loud, low murmur in the room – feelings were running high.

Another interesting moment came when board member Monte McClure of Meridian gave an impassioned explanation of why he’d reluctantly vote in favor of the motion to rescind the original contract award – and then he voted against it. “I will hold my nose doing it, because I don’t think we did anything wrong to start with,” McClure declared. “We lose funding if we don’t. … The only reason I’m voting for reconsideration is the fact that the federal government has said they would not fund us if we don’t.”

But when the roll was called, McClure’s name was called last – and the other five voting members already had voted yes. So McClure voted no. Amid laughter, member John McHugh of Post Falls commented, “I’d just like to compliment member McClure for voting his principles after he’s already determined how it’s going to go.”

Then, at the end, board Chairman Chuck Winder found himself voting to break a tie. After agreeing 5-1 to rescind the earlier award, board members split over whether to start over from scratch, or re-interview the two bidders under conditions that both the companies and the federal authorities had agreed to. Winder favored the latter, and it passed.

The meeting also gave Winder a chance to clarify a few things: The federal funds that were at risk because of the contract problems weren’t the entire $1.2 billion “Connecting Idaho” project – they were just the funds for the program manager contract. But that’s plenty big too – at up to $5 million a year for a 10-year project, it’s a contract worth as much as $50 million.

Chigbrow announces for state controller

Royce Chigbrow, a CPA and longtime campaign treasurer for GOP candidates, announced today he’s running for state controller – the position that Republican Controller Keith Johnson is giving up to run for Congress.

“It has been a great honor to serve Republicans during my professional career,” said Chigbrow. “With encouragement from my family, friends and fellow Republicans statewide, I have decided to seek the Republican nomination for Idaho State Controller in next year’s primary election.”

Chigbrow was campaign treasurer for Republicans including former Gov. Phil Batt and Congressman Butch Otter. Former state GOP Chairman Trent Clark is heading up his campaign, and Batt tops the list of his campaign committee. Batt praised Chigbrow, saying, “Royce’s long record of service to the Republican Party coupled with his experience as a CPA makes him uniquely qualified to serve Idaho as state controller.”

The state controller’s job was held by Democrats for 26 straight years before Johnson won it in 2002. Republicans now hold all but one of Idaho’s statewide elected offices.

New group sets legislative agenda

More than 100 people packed the Gold Room of the state Capitol on Wednesday to discuss legislative issues affecting Idaho children, from day-care regulation to social services to early childhood education. By the end of the day, after in-depth discussions, the new group, Idaho Voices for Children, had adopted a legislative agenda focusing on restoring and expanding community resource workers in Idaho schools; expanding child-care licensing; removing an asset test from eligibility standards for the Children’s Health Insurance Program; and expanding early childhood education.

A bipartisan group of legislators addressed the group, along with business leaders and others. Among them was Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, who described the day-care licensing legislation he’s sponsoring on behalf of the Child Care Summit group. He noted that a recent Idaho poll asked people how important they thought it was to require criminal background checks for all workers who are around children in day-cares, a key provision of his bill. “Ninety-nine point five percent said essential, very important or important,” Sayler said, adding amid laughter, “I don’t know what the other half percent was thinking. It’s very overwhelming. Yet the current statute exempts facilities from those requirements if they are caring for six children or fewer.”

Sayler sponsored a day-care bill last year, but it died by one vote in the House Health & Welfare Committee. This year, he said. “I think we have a fairly good chance if we can get it out of committee.” Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, has agreed to be the Senate sponsor, he said.

Also addressing the group were Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston; Rep. Margaret Henbest, D-Boise; Rep. Kathie Garrett, R-Boise; Sen. Mike Burkett, D-Boise; Doug Fagerness, head of North Idaho College Head Start and vice president of Idaho Voices for Children; legislative budget director Jeff Youtz; and Larry Koomler, representing the Idaho Business Coalition for Excellence in Education, a group of CEOs and business leaders from around the state that’s pushing for improvements in education.

Teachers file initiative

The Idaho Education Association has filed an initiative with the Secretary of State’s office to reinstate the recently expired 1-cent sales tax hike, and this time direct all the money to local public schools across the state. Under the “Idaho Local Public Schools Investment Act,” local school districts would be required to spend at least 90 percent of the new revenue – which could be as much as $180 million a year – on classroom instruction and support, and issue an annual report to the public on how the additional money is spent. The initiative also requires that the new funding be in addition to state appropriations, rather than replacing part of them. If passed, it would be in effect through 2020, when voters would be asked to review it.

“This initiative will help supply classrooms with up-to-date materials and supplies for students as well as protecting or reducing class sizes,” said IEA President Sherri Wood.

A Caldwell parent who’s backing the initiative, Joe Langan, said, “It is time someone takes a stand for our kids and public education. The Legislature has not had the will to do what’s right and I am tired of programs being cut and class sizes increased.”

To make the ballot, the measure would need 47,881 signatures of registered voters by April 30. Before backers can begin gathering those, the measure must be reviewed for constitutionality by the Idaho Attorney General’s office.

Bringing ‘em in, sending ‘em out

Is your town a job importer or a job exporter? The state Division of Financial Management, in its monthly “Idaho Outlook” publication, analyzed some Census figures that show the difference between various Idaho cities’ resident populations and daytime populations. If there are fewer residents than the total daytime population, that means folks are coming into town to work. If there are more residents than daytime population, more folks are leaving town to work than are coming in.

It turns out that by those figures, Coeur d’Alene, Sandpoint and Moscow are job importers, and Hayden and Post Falls are job exporters. By the numbers, CdA had a net of 7,018 local employees who live out of town, Sandpoint had 3,589 and Moscow had 1,961. Hayden, on the other hand, had 1,260 fewer people each day than its total residential population, and Post Falls had 1,299 fewer.

The biggest job importer in the state was Boise, with 30,874. The biggest exporter was next-door Meridian, which sends out 3,991 workers – the only surprise there being that it’s not more. Long considered a bedroom community to Boise, Meridian has grown by leaps and bounds, including its commercial sector.

Boise’s ski season starts with shimmer

It’s a vision in white over the brown hills of Boise today - Bogus Basin ski resort is open for business. Hundreds of skiers reportedly flocked to the opening day, ditching work or school to frolic on chilly, groomed slopes under on-and-off sunshine, while the rest of us could only look up at the shining peak and wait for the weekend.

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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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