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Archive for June 2005

The campaigning is on

Longtime Kootenai County Clerk Dan English, a Democrat, was a little surprised to get a phone message at his Twin Lakes home reminding him about the 4th of July parade in Coeur d’Alene – courtesy of former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen, who’s running for the 1st District congressional seat as a Republican. “I guess they have to find some way to get their name out,” English said. “It’s starting early.”

The primary election isn’t until May of 2006, with the general election following in November ’06. But it’s already a crowded race on the GOP side, with Sorensen, Idaho Water Users Executive Director Norm Semanko, state Sen. Skip Brandt of Kooskia, and Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez all announced candidates. The Democrats and more Republicans are still to come. It’s an open race with no incumbent, because U.S. Rep. Butch Otter plans to leave Congress to run for governor.

English said despite all his years of political involvement, the parade reminder was a new one on him. He said he often participates in the local parade, and may again this year. “I might go down and walk in the Democrat section,” he said.

They’re on their way

The legislative interim committee on property tax relief is coming to a location near you – for 12 public hearings around the state in the next two months. First stop will be Sandpoint on July 27 at 1 p.m., followed by Coeur d’Alene the same day at 7 p.m. On July 28, the panel will move to Moscow at 1 and Lewiston at 7. That’ll be followed by Hailey and Twin Falls on Aug. 10, Pocatello and Rexburg on Aug. 11, McCall and Emmett on Aug. 24, and Boise and Nampa/Caldwell on Aug. 25.

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, the panel’s co-chair, said the hearings will begin with some basic information about how Idaho’s property tax system works, but will mostly be devoted to hearing from the public, “to ask the public what their concerns are and if they’ve got suggestions on how things can change.”

Abracadabra…

Scrolling through pent-up email after a week’s vacation, I was surprised to come upon this missive from the Idaho Attorney General’s office: “AGREEMENT REACHED TO ELIMINATE TOBACCO.”

Wow – I was only gone a week, and the lawyers found a way to make tobacco disappear? Not only that, as I read down through the press release, it was actually from the National Association of Attorneys General, and bore the names of the honorable attorneys general of Vermont, Indiana, Georgia and California. But after all those distinguished names and titles, the true topic emerged:

“Agreement reached to eliminate tobacco
advertising from school library editions of Time, Newsweek, People and Sports Illustrated”

Still significant, certainly, but much less miraculous…

Sagebrush and tumbleweeds

En route from Pocatello to Boise, I passed the Garden of Eden – it’s a truck stop in Eden, Idaho, who knew? And then I drove right by the road to Bliss. As the landscape gradually became drier, browner and more dominated by sagebrush near Mountain Home, I recalled a story a relative tells about a young bride whose military husband was going to bring her to Idaho – specifically to Mountain Home, site of the big Air Force base. Knowing nothing about Idaho, the young woman looked for pictures, and found some – showing Coeur d’Alene. Seeing the lake shimmering blue amid the forested mountains, she grew increasingly excited about moving to her new home state. Then, when she got her first view of the stark landscape surrounding Mountain Home, the bride cried.

Little did she know that she was within 100 miles of both the Garden of Eden and the road to Bliss.

Where’s that fund?

Members of the Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee were hearing an update on the state budget today, including the good news that Idaho’s structural deficit is shrinking and now looks likely to be virtually gone by the end of fiscal year 2007, if current trends hold. Legislative Budget Director Jeff Youtz ran down the ways Idaho had to scratch and patch to balance its budget in recent years, including a temporary sales tax increase, cutting budgets, deferring maintenance and other needs, and draining virtually every state account that had money left in it. “We raided the water pollution control fund, and every fund that wasn’t adequately hidden from us,” Youtz told the lawmakers, to which JFAC Co-Chair Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, responded, “What one would that be?”

That drew laughter, but things really were that desperate, after state revenues dropped 15 percent in a single year, with 10 percent of that drop from an economic downturn and 5 percent from income tax cuts that lawmakers approved in 2001 just before the downturn. Youtz noted that the state’s budget stabilization fund was among those drained at the time. “It was not quite zero – we had about $34 in it,” he said. Now, with stronger state revenues, the budget stabilization fund is refilling.

What a day

Rep. George Sayler, D-Coeur d’Alene, isn’t letting a little rain up north dampen his parade today: Today is his birthday, it’s the last day of school, and he’s now retired after a long teaching career. His summer, he said, “just got off to a great start.”

So what’ll he do now? “I’m going to have one job, and that’s going to be the Legislature, and not try to do two different things,” Sayler said. “I’ll get caught up around home, and do more reading, camping and bird watching, a little more of a normal lifestyle. And devote my time to the Legislature.”

In fact, even as he celebrated his big day, Sayler took time to talk with a reporter about an upcoming property tax interim committee meeting and what he’s been hearing from constituents about the property tax. “I think this is a long overdue effort,” he said. “You know, the Democratic Party has tried for three years in the Legislature to get some tax relief. … Now the majority party is finally on board, so I expect something to happen this next session.”

Fireworks ahead: Vasquez joins 1st District race

Controversial Canyon County Commissioner Robert Vasquez announced today that he’ll run for Idaho’s 1st District congressional seat – the seat that represents all of North Idaho, as well as a swath of southern Idaho, including Canyon County. Vasquez is an outspoken opponent of illegal immigration whose caustic comments have upset the Hispanic community – though he’s Hispanic himself – in his home county, which has the largest Hispanic population in the state.

“I believe my fellow Idahoans know that we cannot allow Idaho to become like the states of California and Arizona,” Vasquez said in his campaign announcement, posted on his website. “Those who are aware of the illegal aliens overwhelming the medical and social services of those states realize that it will take a different mentality to honestly address the issue.” He added, “How can our federal representatives strive to grant amnesty to illegal aliens, while asking our young men and women to secure a foreign border, but ignoring ours, and allowing millions of illegal aliens to enter literally at will?”

The 55-year-old county commissioner, a Republican, has made waves by calling for his county to be declared a disaster area due to illegal immigration, sending a bill to the Mexican government for more than $2 million to offset what he said was the impact of illegal Mexican immigrants on the county, and blaming illegal aliens for spreading disease and boosting crime. He recently called for using racketeering laws to sue employers who hire illegal workers.

Already in the race are three other Republicans: former state Sen. Sheila Sorensen of Boise, Idaho Water Users executive director Norm Semanko, and state Sen. Skip Brandt of Kooskia. State Controller Keith Johnson and state Sen. Joe Stegner of Lewiston, also Republicans, have expressed interest in the race, while former 1st District Rep. Larry LaRocco, a Democrat, considered it but ruled it out. Vasquez, in his announcement, derided his opponents, saying, “Those previously announced candidates lack any real commitment to America’s language, borders and culture.”

It’s a green, fragrant, leafy drought

Things couldn’t be looking more lush in Boise – the hills are uncharacteristically green, flowers are blooming all over the place, nearby Lucky Peak Reservoir is full and sparkling, and frequent spring rains keep causing mini-flash floods in the streets and leaving standing water here and there. But today, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne made if official: It’s a drought. The governor declared a drought emergency in Ada County.

That’s because irrigation water here comes from the Boise River, and forecasts are that the river’s flows will only hit 60 percent of average this year. Lucky Peak won’t stay full, either. County commissioners requested the drought declaration so temporary water rights can be sought and so forth; Ada is the 19th Idaho county to get a drought emergency declaration so far this year.

Caldwell woman latest Guard casualty

Specialist Carrie L. French, 19, of Caldwell, Idaho, died yesterday in Kirkuk, Iraq, when an improvised explosive device hit her convoy vehicle. French was assigned to the Army National Guard’s 145th Support Battalion, based in Boise.

The young soldier is survived by her parents, Paula Hylinsky and Rick French, who issued this statement: “Carrie was a fun-loving young woman with a warm heart and a desire to serve. She was loved by everyone who knew her, and she will be dearly missed.”

If I had a million dollars, or $10 mil.

There’s a lot of “if I won the lottery” talk in Boise these days, what with an unidentified, 30-something Boisean holding a $220.3 million Powerball jackpot ticket. The unnamed winner has to decide whether to take his winnings as a single, $125 million payout (before taxes) all at once, or a 30-year annuity that would total the full $220.3 million, made in equal payments of $7.3 million a year for 30 years.

The winner’s not the only one anticipating this decision. If he chooses the lump-sum, Idaho will nab $9.75 million in state income taxes from it, all at once. That’s a substantial boost to the state budget. The state would actually get more overall from the annuity option - but it would come in at just over half a million a year for 30 years, making far less of a bump in state finances.

“It would just be receipts that come into the state general fund,” said Brad Foltman, Gov. Dirk Kempthorne’s budget director. “There are no hooks or strings or anything else that would be included with that. . It would not be designated for any particular thing.”

If the money were split up like the rest of the state budget, public schools would get the largest share of the lump-sum payout, about $4.5 million. But lawmakers and the governor decide how to spend the state budget, and there’s no telling which way they’d go.

Foltman noted that right now, state revenues are running well ahead of projections and the state’s budget is running a surplus. “It seems like we’re getting all of the breaks that we wish we could’ve got one of just a few years ago,” he said. “Ten million bucks would’ve helped dramatically in offsetting some holdback issues we had - but we didn’t have it then.” Now, he said, “When the luck faucet gets turned on, we’re doing good.”

Steve Woodall, deputy director of the Idaho Lottery, said the lottery has heard from the winner’s attorney, and the winner is still mulling his options. He’s Idaho’s biggest winner ever, far eclipsing the $18.7 million won by Boisean Eric Kyle this February, and even the $87 million haul Boise’s Pam Hiatt collected in 1995. Hiatt, who was in her 20s when she won, called the lottery last night to offer to chat with the latest winner.

“She’s a real nice young woman,” Woodall said. “She just kind of called to say if he wants to talk to anybody, it’s kind of a unique experience, she real graciously said that he can call her and they can talk about what it’s like to be young multimillionaires.”

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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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