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Eye On Boise

Archive for November 2006

Board pushing for more scholarships

The state Board of Education voted unanimously today for a $10 million plan for need-based scholarships for Idaho college students, an area where Idaho lags far behind most states. Idaho offers about $17 per student in need-based aid, compared to a national average of $387. “As the cost of living and the cost of tuition rises, our students are in desperate need for additional aid,” said Sue Thilo, the board member who chaired a task force that developed the plan. “No longer can students work part-time and go to school full-time without taking out large amounts of student loans. As we look at how to improve Idaho’s economy and the lives of Idahoans, education is the key.”

The plan calls for an initial $10 million in state funding, with businesses and citizens contributing additional amounts toward an endowment fund. If it’s approved by the Legislature, about 650 high school graduates could get state aid of up to $3,000 starting in 2007.

Those durn demanding kids, who knows what they’ll want next

Today’s Idaho State Journal had a story by reporter Dan Boyd on a talk by local legislators to the Chamber of Commerce there in Pocatello about their legislative priorities, and the lawmakers touched on the question of whether the state should create more need-based scholarships for college students. Newly, and narrowly, re-elected Rep. Ken Andrus, R-Lava Hot Springs, opposed the idea, saying he’d rather hold tuition steady than target aid at a select few. He didn’t stop there. As quoted in the Journal, here’s Rep. Andrus’ comment on the issue:

“I am not in favor of providing an education for everybody who wants one. When they get out of school, they’re going to want a job provided for them, too.”

Legally, not all hogs and kisses

When might justices of the Idaho Supreme Court write about a “butt load of money” or about how a “seller may poop away a security interest in goods”? When they’re writing about a case involving “Hogs N Kisses LLC,” of course. The court’s recent 4-1 decision in a crop lien case brought by Simplot Corp. against a Cassia County farmer includes a dissent from Justice Jim Jones that employs appropriate metaphors in a tale of fertilizer, barley, hay and limited liability.

From Zamboni caper to first snow

With a light coating of snow frosting the city, Boise is coming out of a long holiday weekend that started with the entire country chortling over its turkey about Boise’s great Zamboni caper, and included the Boise State Broncos winning a spot in the Fiesta Bowl, to fans’ delight. Now the news is snow – Bogus Basin headed into the long weekend with hardly any, but got dumped on overnight, and a little snow even fell in the valley.

There’s not much news on holiday weekends, generally, so you can’t really blame the rest of the country for latching onto the Zamboni story. Here’s what happened: After midnight on Nov. 10, in the wee hours of the morning, two temporary city employees at the city-owned Idaho Ice World who were responsible for cleaning up the ice rink and locking up for the night decided to make a run to Burger King – on the rink’s two Zambonis. The giant, slow-moving ice-grooming machines weren’t exactly hard to spot. The employees took them through the drive-through for snacks and returned to work, driving the machines along public streets. People noticed, and over the next few days, calls starting filtering in to the city.

“Although I can’t discuss personnel issues, I can say that those two individuals are no longer employed by the city,” said assistant to the mayor Michael Zuzel.

No damage was reported to the Zambonis, which include one about 10 years old and a second that’s brand-new and was just purchased for $75,000. Amy Stahl, city parks spokeswoman, said the machines do have tires that allow them to travel off the ice, but “there’s wear and tear involved. I mean, obviously they’re built for the ice and driving at slow rates of speed.”

The city purchased Idaho Ice World about three years ago and it’s open daily, and Stahl reported that the skating ice there is routinely “in excellent condition.” When youth hockey teams are playing, the Zambonis are brought out to smooth the ice after every game, which means every hour. “The Zambonis are used repeatedly every day,” she said.

Zuzel said the city hasn’t had its Zambonis get out before. “I think this is probably a first, for us and maybe for the Zamboni Corp. as well,” he said. “As soon as it was known and investigated, the city took pretty decisive action. … I think a lot of people appreciate the small amount of humor associated with the situation, although misuse of any city equipment is obviously a serious matter.”

Stahl said Boise’s youth hockey leagues are seeing record numbers of young players these days, so the city Zambonis get plenty of workout without side trips for burgers and fries.

That’s not a bad tale to laugh over with the turkey and stuffing, right? And for Boise State fans, the game against Nevada-Reno over the weekend rivaled Grandma’s pumpkin pie for topping off the celebration. Now, there’s snow, but in typical Boise fashion, not too much – in town, the roads are clear, and there’s just a dusting on the trees and patios. Happy Thanksgiving.

Luna taps educators, controller for guidance

State Superintendent of Schools-elect Tom Luna – the first non-educator ever to be elected to that post – has asked three Idaho school district superintendents and the state controller to help him transition into the office, now held by Democrat Marilyn Howard. Luna named Boise Supt. Stan Olson, Genesee Supt. David Neumann, Madison Supt. Geoffrey Thomas and outgoing state Controller Keith Johnson to his transition team.

“I’m honored to have such distinguished people working with me to help improve the quality of education in Idaho,” Luna said. “We ran a very issue-oriented campaign, and I’ve asked my transition team to help me design a Department of Education that delivers on our promises and meets the needs of our children and our schools for years to come.”

Historical society audit shows overpayments

The Idaho state controller’s office has released its audit of travel records of former state Historical Society Director Steve Guerber, who resigned recently after a legislative audit of just a small portion of the agency’s records showed $700 in improper travel or meal payments to Guerber. The results: $5,468 in improper payments to Guerber were identified over a five-year period, state Controller Keith Johnson said today.

Guerber has denied any wrongdoing and maintained the overpayments identified earlier were unintentional; Johnson said the audit showed a “regrettable” lapse in accounting at the state agency. He said he will turn the audit over to local prosecutors.

The Associated Press reported that Guerber, who resigned earlier this month from a post he’d held 10 years, has already returned $633 and plans to repay the remaining $4,800. Guerber said he was “overcompensated because of accounting errors and technical noncompliance with complicated regulations.” Plus, he said the audit turned up additional money he’s now due from the state. “I will ask the state to reimburse me or offset the $1,700 in lawful public expenses which we discovered during this process that I had failed to claim over the last five years,” he said in a statement.

Malmen to be Otter’s chief of staff

Governor-elect Butch Otter has named his chief of staff: Jeff Malmen, who filled the same role for former Gov. Phil Batt and has been chief of staff in Otter’s congressional office for the past six years. Malmen also has served as executive director of the Idaho Republican Party and as a staffer for Sens. Larry Craig and Steve Symms. Said Otter, “I have relied on him for years to deliver sound advice and effective management, and I’m grateful that he’s agreed to continue in that role.”

Malmen, 39, is a native of Picabo who attended Boise State University. He and wife Erika have two sons, Connor and Liam.

First big policy clash between Risch and Otter

Idaho Gov. Jim Risch says he has a secret plan to eliminate the sales tax on groceries, but he already has opposition from a key player – Governor-elect Butch Otter. Otter, who was elected Tuesday to be Idaho’s next governor, said he favors a targeted tax break instead that would give the relief to low-income people who need it – not to the wealthy or out-of-state visitors. That could be done through a modified and much-expanded grocery tax credit on Idaho income tax returns, Otter said.

“There, No. 1, you hit residents, and No. 2, more importantly, you hit the people that really need it,” Otter said. Himself a millionaire, Otter said, “I’ll admit, giving me the tax relief on food – I would rather see that tax relief that I’d pay on food go to education. … Don’t forget – when you give it up, you give it up for everybody.” Otter asked, “Why do we want to give relief? Because we don’t want something as essential as food being a decision that these folks have to make between something else.”

Idaho currently gives a $20 per person annual grocery tax credit to residents, $35 for those 65 or older. That clearly doesn’t make up for all the sales tax Idahoans pay on food in a year, and the credit wasn’t increased when the Legislature, at Risch’s urging, raised the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent in August to fund property tax relief.

Removing the sales tax from groceries entirely would cost the state $160 million a year in tax revenue.

Risch said this week, “I prefer completely eliminating it. There are others who prefer doing it as a credit on the income tax. There are arguments for and against each, and I’m working on it.” Risch, whose seven-month term as governor will end when Otter takes over in January and Risch returns to the lieutenant governor’s office, said, “I’m not going to go into details now, but I don’t think it’s any secret that our economy is growing incredibly well. … I have what I think is an innovative idea that will do it without increasing taxes.”

Economists say eliminating the sales tax on groceries actually would give a bigger tax break to the wealthy than to the poor, because they tend to spend more on food by buying pricier groceries. “Taking the sales tax off food is expensive, and it’s not targeted toward lower-income families,” said economist Judy Brown, head of the Moscow-based Idaho Center on Budget and Tax Policy.

Otter said, “I think in order to hit the folks that need the relief, you almost have to base it on the income.” He said, “The bottom line is what happens to people. If the average income in Idaho were $100,000, do you think anybody would be talking about giving ‘em tax relief on food if we needed the money for education and other essential government services? No. The reason we’re talking about it is we want to get that tax relief to the people that need it – those people on fixed income, those people that are in the lower income brackets that are working today, trying to raise kids.”

Idaho is one of nine states that fully tax groceries, while six other states tax groceries at a reduced rate. Thirty states, including Washington, and the District of Columbia exempt groceries from the sales tax entirely. Idaho is one of five states that offer a grocery tax credit.

The results are in

The Idaho Secretary of State’s office has posted near-complete unofficial election results now, with just one precinct of 955 missing. By the time you click on this link, that one may have been added too. The final results show Republicans expanding their lock on state government to include not only the entire congressional delegation, but every statewide elected position – Democrats had held the superintendent of schools post, but Republican businessman Tom Luna narrowly defeated Democrat Jana Jones to succeed retiring Democratic Superintendent Marilyn Howard. Democrats did pick up a half-dozen seats in the Legislature, though. Voters defeated both Proposition 1, on school funding, and Proposition 2, on regulatory takings, but passed the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage, domestic partnerships or civil unions; the advisory vote backing the increase in Idaho’s sales tax coupled with a cut in property taxes; and the move to constitutionally protect tobacco settlement money in a trust fund.

And the election results are … still being counted

At 1 this morning (Mountain time), Republican Butch Otter announced that, although he was leading in the governor’s race by a 54-43 margin with 62 percent of the vote counted, he wouldn’t declare victory until he’d heard from Democratic opponent Jerry Brady conceding the race. But Richard Stallings, state Democratic Party chairman, told KTVB-TV, “By no means are we going to concede this election, because it is still very much in play.” No results at all had come in from Bannock County, the state’s fifth-largest, due to a ballot-counting glitch. Bonner County results were delayed with the big write-in campaign there for county commissioner. And Stallings said there also were delays in results from Blaine County, which is heavily Democratic, and half of Ada County, which Brady won in 2002.

Meanwhile, the congressional race between Republican Bill Sali and Democrat Larry Grant tightened at one point after midnight to just 1,200 votes separating the two, and Republican Tom Luna and Democrat Jana Jones continued to run neck-and-neck in the race for state superintendent of schools.

Perhaps the oddest moment of the night came when Brady was being interviewed on live TV by Adam Atchison of KTVB Channel 7, when Brady’s wife, Rickie, grabbed him and hustled him away, saying, “Someone is waiting for us.” Atchison, and his colleagues in the studio, were left flabbergasted – as were viewers. Brady spent most of election night huddled in a hotel room with Rickie and the couple’s grandchildren, rather than emerging to talk with supporters and the media.

Probably the biggest news – and the earliest obvious result – was the resounding defeat voters dealt to Proposition 2, the regulatory takings initiative. With 63 percent of the vote counted, that measure was failing by a 24-76 percent margin. Meanwhile, Proposition 1, the school funding increase initiative, was failing 43-57, while three other ballot measures – HJR 2 on banning same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnerships; SJR 107, putting the state’s tobacco settlement funds into a constitutionally protected trust fund; and the advisory vote affirming the August tax-reform legislation that raised the sales tax while lowering property taxes; all were passing with comfortable margins.

Meanwhile, Democrats appeared to be picking up several seats in the state Legislature. With half the votes counted in Ada County, three incumbent Republican legislators were losing to their Democratic challengers – Les Bock was ahead of Rep. Jana Kemp, 52-48, in District 16; Bill Killen was leading Rep. Kathie Garrett, 58-38; and Sue Chew was ahead of Rep. Janet Miller, 60-37 percent, both in District 16. Also, Rep. Jack Barraclough, R-Idaho Falls, was losing to Democrat Jerry Shively 49-51 in District 33, and House Majority Caucus Chair Julie Ellsworth, R-Boise, was in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Phyllis King, 50-50, in District 18.

Long lines, but everyone still gets to vote

Long lines are being reported at the polls, including some Ada County precincts with waits of up to two hours – but the Idaho Secretary of State’s office says that if voters are in line at 8 p.m., they’ll still get to vote, even if it takes beyond that cutoff time for them to get in and cast their ballots. So if you haven’t voted yet, head out to the polls, wear comfortable shoes, and take along a water bottle and your best attitude – and know that you’ll get to have your say.

Getting ready to vote…

But need more info? Here’s a look back at some of our major coverage of the top races in Idaho this year. Read all about it, make up your mind, and don’t forget to vote.

Governor’s race
Series on where all the candidates stand on major issues in the race: Growth, education and taxes
Candidates face off in final debate
City Club debate
Constitution Party disavows its candidate for governor

1st Congressional District race
Series on where all the candidates stand on major issues in the race: Public lands, immigration and leadership
Candidate running in 1st District lives in 2nd
Sali, Grant debate in CdA

Proposition 1, education funding

Proposition 2, regulatory takings
Laird Maxwell profile

HJR 2, marriage and domestic partnerships

State Superintendent of Public Instruction

Lieutenant Governor


Attorney General


Prop 2 opponents crowd governor’s office

Gov. Jim Risch stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise; Nampa Mayor Tom Dale; and Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, today to speak out against Proposition 2 on Tuesday’s ballot, the anti-takings initiative. The room was packed with Prop 2 opponents, including representatives of chambers of commerce, conservation groups, cities, counties, developers, Realtors, big business, the League of Women Voters, the Ada County Highway District, GOP legislators, and more. “As you can see from the cross section of people that are here today, there is broad opposition to Proposition 2,” Risch declared.

Becky McKnight, spokeswoman for “This House is My Home,” the group sponsoring the initiative, attended and handed out fliers calling Prop 2 opponents “nothing but a front group for environmental extremist groups like Greenpeace and left-wing billionaire George Soros.” When a reporter asked Risch about that charge, he responded amid laughter, “Well, y’know, I’ve been accused of a lot of stuff, and now the list is complete.” He added, “In this particular instance, I think what you have to do is look around this room, and you see some people here that are very conservative, you see people here who own a considerable amount of property, you see people who are strong environmental groups, and they’ve all come together to say that this is a bad idea for Idaho.”

The measure has been billed as a way to limit the government power of eminent domain, but it actually doesn’t change Idaho’s eminent domain laws, other than adding some definitions, because it mirrors legislation that already passed this year. Instead, the operative part of the initiative is a sweeping new regulatory takings law, which would require local governments to pay landowners if new land-use restrictions prevent them from developing their property to its “highest and best use.” Similar initiatives, funded by New York real estate investor Howard Rich, were proposed in seven states this year and are on the ballot in four, including both Idaho and Washington.

Risch said, “We’re all Idahoans here – we really know what’s good for Idaho and what isn’t.”

McKnight said afterward, “I felt very intimidated as a homeowner … being in there with a bunch of politicians who will say anything and do anything.” But she added parenthetically that she did want to praise Risch for his efforts to help get needed supplies to troops serving in Afghanistan, where her husband is deployed.

Former Congressman Larry LaRocco, whom Risch faces in Tuesday’s election in the race to be Idaho’s lieutenant governor for the next four years, said both he and Risch agree on Prop 2 – both oppose it – and Risch already had made that view public. “I simply think he’s using the governor’s office in the last-minute closing days of the campaign to wring out every ounce of publicity he can get as governor,” LaRocco said.

Risch said the many groups that have come together to fight Prop 2 have formed the broadest coalition on a political issue he’s seen in his career. “I’ve seen strong coalitions put together before,” he said, “but I’ve never seen one, I don’t think, that is quite as diverse as this group is. I think that probably tells you something about this.”

Latest poll has Brady, Grant leading

Likely the final public poll before Tuesday’s election came out today, sponsored by the Idaho Business Review and KTVB-TV, and it shows Democrat Jerry Brady leading Republican Butch Otter in the race for Idaho governor, 41-36 percent, with 20 percent still undecided, and Democrat Larry Grant leading Republican Bill Sali in the 1st District congressional race 38-34, with 25 percent undecided.

Greg Smith, president of Greg Smith & Associates, the Boise firm that conducted the statewide poll, said, “Many voters, who in other years would have a relatively clear picture of their likely voting behavior, are quite confused at this juncture because of the various charges and countercharges made by all four candidates.”

It should be noted that both results were within the margin of error of the poll – plus or minus 4.4 percent for the statewide results and 5.7 percent for the congressional district. The poll queried 499 likely voters statewide, 287 of those in the 1st Congressional District. So it shares a key result with the larger-sample Mason-Dixon poll released last Sunday that was sponsored by the Idaho Statesman and KIVI-TV – it shows the top races in Idaho to be statistical dead heats, too close to call just days before the election, and highly dependent on the decisions of the large number of undecided voters.

Spook-tacular campaign surprises heavy on political tricks-n-treats

Halloween was a banner day for scary surprises in the independent political expenditure arena. According to FEC filings, the Washington, D.C.-based Club for Growth spent another $259,599 on Oct. 31 alone for more TV attack ads against Democratic congressional candidate Larry Grant in Idaho. They weren’t the only ones – the National Republic Congressional Committee reported spending $139,788 the same day for its own “issue ad placement” against Grant, along with $11,230 a day earlier for more “robocall” phone banks calling Idahoans with anti-Grant messages.

That’s not all – the Republican Governors Association reported to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office that it spent $62,300 on Halloween for a TV ad attacking Democratic candidate for governor Jerry Brady, following up on the $172,980 the GOP governors group spent Oct. 27 against Brady.

The Idaho State Democratic Party Central Committee reported spending $37,481 on Halloween for its own “production and media buy” attacking Republican candidate for governor Butch Otter, along with $8,729 a day earlier for anti-Otter printing costs. Meanwhile, ahead of the Halloween rush, the Idaho Republican Party dropped $20,000 on Oct. 26 for independent advertising to boost Otter, and a day before that, the Idaho Realtors PAC spent $29,269 for its own direct-mail piece for Otter.

That’s all independent expenditures, aside from what the campaigns themselves are spending in their final pre-election push…

On the ‘their-ad-is-wrong’ front

It’s gotten to the point where I can’t keep up with all the attack ads and the counter-charges about the attacks being inaccurate. So with apologies to the many I’ve no doubt missed, here’s a roundup:

Idaho Superintendent of Schools Marilyn Howard said a radio attack ad accusing her chief deputy, Jana Jones, of spending $500,000 on “frivolous overseas junkets” is “deceitful and unjustified.” Jones is running to succeed Howard as superintendent; the ad was placed by former state Sen. Darrel Deide’s Idahoans for Excellence in Education. No state money was spent on the disputed international teacher education missions that were sponsored in part by the U.S. Department of State, Howard said.

GOP congressional candidate Bill Sali accused Democratic opponent Larry Grant of taking the campaign to a “new low” with an ad citing Sali’s support in a National Taxpayers Union survey for a national sales tax, but not saying he wants to eliminate the IRS as part of the trade-off. “Grant has misrepresented my record and positions in a way that is plainly deceptive,” Sali said.

Project Vote Smart has issued a statement condemning GOP candidate for governor Butch Otter’s use of Vote Smart’s voter information to attack Democratic candidate Jerry Brady. “This kind of negative campaign activity is precisely the sort of tactic that the Project attempts to counter with its factual database,” the nonpartisan group said.

“This House is My Home,” the group sponsoring Proposition 2, the “takings” initiative on the November ballot, charged that a TV ad from “Neighbors Protecting Neighbors” against the initiative was “demonstrably false” because it said the measure could turn “any Idaho property including farmland into junk yards, power plants or high rises.” Spokeswoman Becky McKnight said not all land could be turned into those things, because of existing zoning laws and neighborhood covenants. “Therefore, the claim of ‘any’ is patently false,” McKnight said.

“Neighbors Protecting Neighbors” criticized a TV ad from “This House is My Home” that highlights how North Idaho residents Jess and Jan Goetz feel their land was devalued by a government land-use decision. The county had lowered allowable densities in its agricultural suburban zone. Goetz sought a rezone; 16 neighbors opposed the application, in part because of concerns about contamination of groundwater in an area with no sewer service, and it was denied. “Once you know the facts, this ad underscores how Prop Two threatens things that belong to all of us, like our clean water,” said spokesman Justin Hayes.

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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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