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Eye On Boise

Thu., March 5, 2009, 9:37 a.m.

Lobbyist on guv’s stimulus committee was paid to kill guv’s rental car tax bill

Here’s a news item from AP: “A lobbyist recently named to a panel that will help the governor decide how to use Idaho's share of federal stimulus money just got paid to kill one of the governor's own highway construction funding bills. Mike Brassey, a contract lobbyist for the Idaho Rental Car Association, told the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday that Otter's plan to add a 6 percent surcharge to rental cars in Idaho "wasn't good tax policy." The committee voted 11-3 to kill the proposal.” Click below for the full story from AP reporter John Miller.

Lobbyist on Idaho gov's panel kills gov's bill
By JOHN MILLER
Associated Press Writer

 

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — A lobbyist recently named to a panel that will help the governor decide how to use Idaho's share of federal stimulus money just got paid to kill one of the governor's own highway construction funding bills.

Mike Brassey, a contract lobbyist for the Idaho Rental Car Association, told the House Transportation Committee on Wednesday that Otter's plan to add a 6 percent surcharge to rental cars in Idaho "wasn't good tax policy."

The committee voted 11-3 to kill the proposal. Otter had wanted the money to help build roads and bridges, part of his proposed package to raise $174 million annually after 2014.

Brassey, a former Republican state budget chief, was named by Otter on Feb. 19 to an eight-member panel that will make recommendations on how Idaho should use as much as $1 billion the state expects to get from the economic stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama. Otter gave state agencies and private companies until Wednesday to submit proposals.

Among other things, Brassey could weigh in on $202 million worth of highway projects recommended for approval this week from the Idaho Transportation Board.

Brassey, whose job as a lobbyist for the rental car group includes persuading lawmakers to reject the tax increase, conceded after the vote that Idaho is "a small state" — but said his dual roles weren't in conflict with each other.

"The governor knew at the time the position I'd be taking on that," Brassey told The Associated Press. "It's one thing to make a recommendations on how money dedicated to highways should be spent. It's quite another to be talking about whether you should be creating a new source of revenue. The stimulus is not involved in creating new sources of revenue."

Jason Kreizenbeck, Otter's chief of staff, said the governor wasn't concerned about Brassey's work for clients.

"He's making recommendations," Kreizenbeck said of Brassey's role. "The governor is the decision maker."

Including Brassey, the stimulus vetting panel includes former Republican Gov. Phil Batt, former Democrat Govs. Cecil Andrus and John Evans, former Republican budget chiefs Brian Whitlock and Jeff Malmen, and former Democrat budget chiefs Marty Peterson and Darrell Manning. Andrus now works for the lobbying firm Gallatin Public Affairs; Malmen lobbies for Idaho Power Co.; Whitlock is a lobbyist for the company that runs the Idaho National Laboratory; and Peterson lobbies for the University of Idaho.

Brassey's lobbying ties go deeper than rental car companies.

The lawyer and former state Department of Insurance director also gets paid by the parent company of Idaho Power Co., the state's largest utility, to represent its interests before the Legislature. Brassey also represents St. Luke's Regional Medical Center.

Energy companies like Idaho Power and Rocky Mountain Power, which serves southeastern Idaho, could be vying for a share of the stimulus. Idaho Power may have submitted a proposal by Wednesday's deadline, said Paul Kjellander, head of the Idaho Office of Energy Resources, though he didn't have specifics.

And hospitals like St. Luke's could benefit from a boost in Medicaid funding, too, helping them reduce charity care.

"It's fair to say we might benefit," said Ken Dey, a St. Luke's spokesman. "I'm not aware of any specifics, just in general."

Minority Leader Kate Kelly, a Boise Democrat who favors tougher ethics laws, said Brassey's experience in state government — especially his role as a former budget director — makes him a good choice to help Otter sort through what will likely be myriad proposals for the federal money.

Still, his numerous roles, for numerous clients, deserve attention, she said.

"I have nothing but respect for him," Kelly said. "It's just, these multiple hats he's wearing, it gets a little confusing."

 

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.

 




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Eye On Boise

News, happenings and more from the Idaho Legislature and the state capital.