Archive for June 2010
The newly appointed House Ethics Committee investigating the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has scheduled a conference call meeting for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, July 6th. For those participating in person, the meeting will take place in the House State Affairs committee room, East Wing Room 40 in the lower level of the state Capitol. A live audio stream also will be made available on the Legislature’s website, www.legislature.idaho.gov; look for the link on the right-hand side.
House Speaker Lawerence Denney has appointed an ethics committee to investigate the conduct of Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol. Rep. Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, will chair the seven-member panel, and Rep. Wendy Jaquet, D-Ketchum, will be vice-chair. The committee likely will meet in August.
“I have full confidence in the Idaho House process and in the capable and experienced members I have selected for this committee,” Denney said. “It is important for both the House and for Rep. Hart to have this matter resolved quickly and in a fair, even-handed manner.” Denney said he would take no immediate action with regard to Hart’s committee assignments, because none of the committees on which Hart serves will meet before next January. The ethics complaint against Hart charges a possible conflict of interest due to Hart’s service on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while fighting his own back state and federal income taxes, and possible abuse of legislative privilege for Hart’s invoking the privilege to seek repeated delays in his personal tax cases.
Click here to read Denney’s announcement of the appointment of the committee; the other members are Reps. Dell Raybould, Bert Stevenson, Rich Wills, Bill Killen and George Sayler.
When two professors, Washington University law professor and political science department Chair Andrew Martin and Colorado State University political scientist Kyle Saunders, analyzed every vote cast in the Idaho Legislature, they found no evidence that Democratic crossover voting in Idaho’s primary elections has resulted in the election of “Republicans in name only” who actually vote like Democrats. Instead, they found that all of Idaho’s GOP lawmakers voted more conservatively than the state’s Democratic lawmakers. The only very small overlap was in the House, where a couple of conservative Democrats overlapped the most liberal Republicans in voting records - chiefly Rep. Mary Lou Shepherd, D-Prichard, who voted more conservatively than two GOP House members in 2005-06 and than one, Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, in 2007-08.
Click here to see a chart showing the breakdown for House and Senate for the 2008-08 session. The Senate shows no overlap among Republican and Democratic members’ voting patterns at all; Sen. Gary Schroeder, R-Moscow, whom the professors showed had the most liberal voting record of all GOP senators from 2003 to 2008, still voted more conservatively than every Democratic senator in every session. Schroeder was defeated in the GOP primary this year by a more conservative candidate, Gresham Dale Bouma.
An expert report commissioned by the state to defend its current primary election laws in a federal lawsuit includes this insight into party politics: Political parties in America have three “interrelated components,” according to the state’s experts, Andrew Martin of Washington University in St. Louis and Kyle Saunders of Colorado State University: The party in the electorate, the party in government, and the party organization. The party organization is the most ideologically extreme of the three; its goal is to promote the party label and positions and motivate its activists.
Party members who are elected to office tend to be less extreme; their goal is “to continue winning elections and therefore hold power.” That requires moderate enough views to appeal to a general election constituency.
The party in the electorate - voters who identify with the party - are the least ideologically extreme of the three groups. Their goal is “to vote and have their voice heard.”
Closed primaries lead to more-extreme candidates, the two professors wrote, with old-fashioned party “machine” politics the most-extreme example. “Open primaries produce less ideologically extreme candidates than closed primaries, and produce candidates that are more representative of the party in the electorate as well as the overall electorate,” they wrote. “Open primaries increase citizen engagement as well as voter turnout in primary and general elections.”
Here’s what the Idaho Republican Party considers proof that the state’s open primaries violate its constitutional rights: Too many conservative Republicans are losing to moderate Republicans. In a stack of affidavits and documentation submitted as part of a federal court case, the party contends that crossover voting by independents and Democrats in GOP primaries is the only explanation for those victories; in one case, the party argues that a twice-elected GOP lawmaker, Stan Bastian, was actually a Democrat in disguise.
Former one-term state Rep. Henry Kulczyk, R-Eagle, in an affidavit, contends that his 2004 primary election loss to Bastian was the doing of the Democrats. “I believe that Stan Bastian was a Democrat running in my primary race as a Republican,” Kulczyk said. “I lost a Republican primary to a Democrat by votes of Democrat voters. If it wasn’t for that, I would have still had the House seat when it was all done. That is a travesty.”
Bastian disagrees, and so does the state, which hired two professors to do extensive studies that concluded Idaho is the most one-party-dominated state in the nation and there’s no evidence crossover voting has affected its election outcomes at all. Instead, the current election system has resulted in a highly polarized state Legislature in which lawmakers generally vote along party lines, the professors found, and all GOP lawmakers identified in the lawsuit as “liberals” were actually “in the mainstream of Republicans in the state of Idaho.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and see the state’s expert report analyzing the voting records of Idaho’s state legislators here.
The Idaho Republican Party, at its state convention, has gone on record against the Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA), the collaborative wilderness and economic development bill long pushed by GOP Congressman Mike Simpson and currently unanimously backed by every member of Idaho’s congressional delegation. Gov. Butch Otter, however, opposes the bill as part of his opposition to any new wilderness, regardless of circumstances. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
By the close of the Idaho GOP state convention today, members had adopted a platform with a new loyalty test for candidates, a provision recommending Idaho withhold taxes from the federal government, a bid to limit marriage to “naturally born” men and women and an admonishment to Idahoans to stock up on gold and silver. Participants said it’s the Democratic administration in Washington, D.C. that’s pushing Idaho Republicans to the right; click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Here’s how AP reporter John Miller sums up the action Friday at the Idaho Republican Party convention in Idaho Falls: Measure by measure, delegates to Idaho’s 2010 Republican Convention on Friday cemented their place at the head of the nation’s stalwart conservatives. More than three dozen proposals, emerging from separate resolution, rules and party platform committees at this biennial event where state’s dominant party sets its compass for the next two years, still must win approval Saturday when all 508 registered delegates are due to vote on them. Even if just half survive to become part of the Idaho Republican Party’s manifesto, they’ll still underscore what’s become a political fact of life: Following the 2008 convention in Sandpoint where Ron Paul Republicans made a raucous entry onto the scene, this conservative faction is now established at the tiller of the state GOP’s inner circle.
Click below to read his full report.
At the GOP convention in Idaho Falls yesterday, Gov. Butch Otter called on Republicans to unite and mentioned Congressman Mike Simpson and Sen. Mike Crapo, both of whom are up for re-election. But he didn’t mention Raul Labrador, the GOP candidate for the 1st District congressional seat - departing from his prepared text that included mention of Labrador, who is in Idaho’s toughest political fight of the year, the Associated Press reports. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
Idaho doesn’t recognize gay or lesbian marriage, but some Republicans want the state to go a step further, the AP reports. A panel of GOP delegates at the state party’s convention passed a measure Friday to define marriage as a bond between a “naturally born” man and woman, effectively barring transgenders. Bannock County delegate Ralph Lilling says his amendment to the state party’s platform will help further protect the traditional family unit. But Donna Montgomery, a delegate from Kootenai County, argued that the additional language was unnecessary because people from Idaho understand man is a man and a woman is a woman. The convention Friday also featured debates about repealing the 17th Amendment, legalizing medical marijuana and forming a state militia; read more here at spokesman.com.
Once again, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred has outraised incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter, just as he did in the previous campaign finance reporting period before the primary. According to the two candidates’ 30-day post-primary reports, from May 10 to June 4, Allred raised $118,861 and spent $58,917, leaving him with $189,995 cash on hand as the general election campaign season opens. Otter raised $95,969 in the same time period and spent $135,573 - $53,000 of that to one communication consulting firm alone, Mike Tracy Communications - and had cash on hand at the close of the period of $161,532. Said Allred, “Not only are we raising more, but we’re spending less than
Butch Otter’s campaign. I hope Idahoans are taking note: I’ll be
running Idaho’s government in much the same way.”
Here’s a link to Otter’s report, here’s a link to Allred’s report, and here’s a link to a press release Allred put out today on his fundraising.
Idaho’s state GOP convention kicked off today in Idaho Falls, with resolutions awaiting votes on everything from defining a fetus as a “person” to legalizing marijuana; the party also is set to debate a loyalty oath requirement, requiring its candidates sign an oath of loyalty to the state party platform or disclose those areas where they disagree; an Arizona-style immigration law; and a proposal to forbid Republican Party members from working for candidates of another party. Click below for a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Idaho State Rep. Phil Hart, who’s currently facing a House ethics review over his ongoing fight over unpaid federal and state income taxes, has paid his property taxes late on his Kootenai County home every year since 2002 and had to pay hundreds in interest and penalties. Tax records kept by the Kootenai County Treasurer’s Office show that Hart currently owes $1,011.23 for the 2009 taxes on the home, plus $55.04 in interest and $18.74 in penalties. Over the past eight years, he’s been as much as 16 months late on the property taxes on the home, and has paid $1,527.05 in interest and $325.64 in penalties and fees.
A House ethics inquiry will look into whether Hart’s tax woes create a conflict of interest with his service on the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, and whether he abused legislative privilege by invoking it to seek repeated delays in his state and federal income tax fights. House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he didn’t know if the late property tax payments are relevant to the ethics inquiry or not. “Basically what he’s doing is he’s borrowing money from the county,” Rusche said. “I just don’t know what that means, but it’s interesting.”
Such property tax delinquencies are relatively rare in Kootenai County, where 88 percent of taxpayers paid up on time in 2008; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The state of Washington won today in the U.S. Supreme Court - and so did Idaho - as the high court upheld Washington’s Public Records Act and its requirement that signatures on a referendum petition be public, not secret. Idaho has similar laws, and joined 22 other states in filing “friend of the court” briefs backing Washington’s position. The group “Protect Marriage Washington” sued to prevent the release of the names of those who signed Referendum 71, the state’s unsuccessful measure that sought to overturn a same-sex domestic partnership law, arguing that the Washington public records law was unconstitutional because making the signers’ names public could subject them to harassment for exercising their right to free speech.
In an 8-1 opinion authored by Chief Justice John Roberts, the high court found that openness is vitally important to help states make sure signatures on referendum or initiative petitions are valid. “Public disclosure thus helps ensure that the only signatures counted are those that should be, and that the only referenda placed on the ballot are those that garner enough valid signatures,” Roberts wrote. “Public disclosure also promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot.” Justice Clarence Thomas was the only dissenter; the case is Doe vs. Reed, and you can read the court’s opinion here, and more on this story here.
Washington Secretary of State Sam Reed said, “This is a big victory for the people of Washington state and the cause of government transparency and accountability here and in other states. I am delighted.”
The Idaho State Police will begin using an electronic system to issue traffic citations starting July 1, with the result that the process of writing out a citation for a stopped motorist will drop from 5 minutes to less than a minute. “E-Ticketing will bring vast improvements to a process that hasn’t had any major changes in the past 50 years,” said ISP Capt. Eric Dayley, who’s overseeing the statewide project. Troopers will use hand-held bar code scanners to input driver’s license and vehicle registration information, the citation will be printed out and handed to the driver without need for a signature from the driver, and the citation will be transmitted electronically to the computer databases for the courts and ISP.
Dayley said the new system, funded by a $900,000 federal grant last fall, will increase accuracy as well as speeding up the citation process. “This will result in reduced time on the side of the highway for our troopers and the public, which is safer for both.”
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho’s four top tax collectors will still get paid for furlough hours they took to save money and show solidarity with state workers getting their pay cut, because the law forbids them from altering their salaries voluntarily. Royce Chigbrow, David Langhorst, Sam Haws and Tom Katsilometes took 292 hours of furlough in the fiscal year ending June 30. Since their salaries are set by the Legislature, however, the state controller’s office says the commissioners will be paid for furlough time. That amounts to nearly $12,000. The four said in a memo made public Wednesday by the Boise Guardian blog, “We regret having to do this, but it is simply out of our hands.” Commissioners could still donate a share of their salaries to Idaho or a charity, but they’d be on the hook for any taxes. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
Close to 70 women turned out for Gov. Butch Otter’s “Women’s Day in the Capitol” today, at which 32 female officials of Otter’s administration explained what they and their agencies do, and then the governor and officials took questions from the audience. Questions ranged from education policy to how the state seeks diversity in appointments to boards and commissions, to how the state can help its most vulnerable residents. Addressing education, Otter told the crowd, “We made a commitment, both myself and the Legislature, that as soon as this economy turns around, education is going to get the first money replaced.”
First Lady Lori Otter was asked why it’s important for women to have leadership roles in state government. “You become the mentor for the next generation coming through,” she said. “As far as I’m concerned, anything a boy can do, a girl can do better. … You are only limited by the opportunities that you don’t take.” The governor said he wanted to respond to the “girl can do better” comment. “She only had three brothers - I had five sisters,” he said to laughter.
Asked during a break about the representation of women in his administration, Otter seemed surprised and pleased to learn that of his 77 agency heads, 27 are women. Told that the average salary for the women is well below that of the male agency heads, Otter said he’d have to analyze it more, but he said, “I’m telling you this: If Nancy Merrill became the head of the Department of Corrections, she would get Brent Reinke’s salary. … If there’s inequities, then we oughta correct them where we can and as soon as we can.”
The governor told the audience, “We thought of having the Idaho Women’s Day in the Capitol for the same reasons we have ‘Capitol for a Day,’” his traveling event that he’s taken to 40 counties so far. “The reason for that is to get access that folks normally wouldn’t have.”
It may seem like it’s taken an awfully long time for the process to go through of appointing Idaho’s new U.S. Attorney - after all, the Obama Administration has been in office for a year and a half. But Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond who watches federal appointments and confirmations, said the confirmation of Wendy Olson as Idaho’s U.S. Attorney actually “moved pretty quickly.” Olson was among an array of nominees confirmed by the Senate today after various holds were lifted. “I think she was one of four U.S. attorneys,” Tobias said; she was confirmed on a voice vote. “There haven’t been reasons to hold them up, and I think very few of them if any have been controversial. … It just takes a while to get through the White House.” So far, Tobias said, only about half of the 93 U.S. attorneys across the nation are Obama appointees, “so he still has a number to go. So all in all, she moved fairly quickly.”
A quarter of Idaho’s 200 cities lost population from July 1, 2008 to July 1, 2009, according to the Idaho Department of Labor and the U.S. Census Bureau. That’s higher than the previous year, but still well below the number of Idaho cities that lost population following the last big recession in 2001. Statewide, Idaho’s population grew 1.2 percent during the year in question to 1,545,801; rural areas gained slightly while cities lost residents. You can read a full report here from the Idaho Department of Labor, including population figures for each of the 200 Idaho cities.
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho leaders attended a ribbon-cutting to officially open a new $50-million drug treatment prison near Boise. Inmates will start moving into the 432-bed minimum security Correctional Alternative Placement Program in July. The prison is designed to provide offenders who would normally be sentenced to two or more years in prison with an intensive 90-day substance abuse treatment program in hopes of curbing future criminal behavior. The prison will be run by the Utah-based Management & Training Corporation, a private company based in Centerville, Utah. Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter joined Idaho Department of Correction and MTC officials for the event Tuesday.
The U.S. Senate has confirmed Wendy Olson as Idaho’s new U.S. Attorney, replacing current U.S. Attorney Tom Moss, who has served since 2001. Olson was recommended by Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick and nominated by the White House in March; her confirmation was applauded today by Idaho’s entire congressional delegation. Click below to read their joint press release.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter will host a “Women’s Day in the Capitol” tomorrow, featuring an array of female state officials in an open forum from 4-7 p.m. and guided tours of the state Capitol. “Women’s Day in the Capitol is actually Capitol for a Day for the women,” Otter said. “And the idea, of course, is to have all the women that are involved in my administration present themselves to the ladies that want to come to the state capitol, visit us and find out what their jobs are and what they do, and also if they have particular women’s issues that they want to discuss with the administrative staff, they can.”
Otter has 32 female state agency officials lined up for the event, for which KTVB-TV anchor Dee Sarton will serve as MC and at which people can ask questions of the governor and his administration on state government issues or the role of women in policy-making and state government.
Here are some stats on women in the Otter Administration, based on state payroll records from the state controller’s office as of Jan. 7, 2010: Of the 77 state agency heads on the state’s payroll on that date, 50 were men and 27 were women. Average pay for the male state agency heads was $109,658; average pay for the female state agency heads was $88,681.
Those figures include everything from college presidents (four men, one woman) to state tax commissioners (three men, one woman); and from the Department of Administration chief, Mike Gwartney, whose salary is zero, to Otter’s three top female department heads, the heads of the departments of Agriculture, Environmental Quality and Parks. Of the 20 official state departments that make up the state’s executive branch, five are headed by women. In 2007, Otter made Idaho one of just two states in the nation with no women justices on its Supreme Court, when he appointed Joel Horton to replace retiring Justice Linda Copple-Trout, the court’s only woman justice at the time, passing over two female judges who were finalists for the post.
Said Otter, “Women in our statewide community continue to make Idaho the best place in America to live and it is time they are honored with a special day focusing on their important roles in our government, our communities and our lives.”
The Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee issued a press release today calling on Idaho elected officials to say where they stand on Rep. Phil Hart’s tax woes, which are the subject of pending House ethics committee; the committee will look into whether Hart had a conflict of interest in serving on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while pressing his legal fight over unpaid state and federal income taxes, and whether he abused legislative privilege by citing it in seeking delays in his tax cases.
“Idaho citizens work hard and pay their taxes that provide for roads, schools and our national defense,” said Thom George, chairman of the Kootenai County Democratic Central Committee, in the release. “Even if we don’t always agree with how those taxes are collected and distributed we understand our responsibility to comply with federal and state laws. For Mr. Hart to refuse to pay his taxes for years and then fail to comply with a court decision ordering repayment is reprehensible. Each and every elected official in the state of Idaho should call upon Mr. Hart to step down immediately.”
KTVB-TV, in a special “Viewpoint” program entitled “Plagiarism in Politics” that aired yesterday, did extensive analysis on unsuccessful GOP congressional candidate Vaughn Ward’s January announcement speech and reached a startling conclusion - the whole speech was plagiarized, not just the final paragraph in which Ward echoed Barack Obama’s 2004 Democratic convention speech. According to the station’s analysis, while other parts of the speech also repeated Obama’s words, the entire meat of the speech echoes an announcement speech given by a Pennsylvania congressional candidate, Pat Meehan, four months earlier.
That includes the entire part in which Ward talked about concerns he’d heard from Idahoans in his year of campaigning around the state; Meehan laid those out as the concerns he was hearing from people in Pennsylvania, during his announcement speech there in September of 2009. Only 25 percent of Ward’s speech was original, the station found, and that part was where Ward talked about his military experience and when he gave his goodbyes and thanks. You can see the program and its documentation online here. KTVB also talked with Ryan O’Barto, Ward’s former campaign manager, whom Ward blamed for adding the Obama lines to a speech that Ward said he’d written himself; O’Barto told KTVB neither he nor Ward wrote the speech, but wouldn’t say who did.
Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart on Friday defended his long tax fight against the IRS and the state Tax Commission, and said he looks forward to going before a House ethics committee. ”I would welcome the opportunity to tell my story,” said Hart, R-Athol, a third-term state lawmaker who’s unopposed for re-election in November. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Rep. Phil Hart, in his first public comment since House Speaker Lawerence Denney said yesterday he’d appoint an ethics committee to investigate Hart’s conduct, sent a guest opinion to newspapers this afternoon defending his fight against income taxes, but making no mention of his use of legislative privilege in his fight, his service on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while he pressed his fight, or the pending ethics action, which is aimed at those two matters. Hart’s op-ed piece (click below to read it in full) focuses on his legal challenge to the federal income tax, including a quote from a lawyer who he said called his challenge “brilliant legal work;” his subsequent problems with an IRS audit; and his concerns about revealing the names of those who bought his book, “Constitutional Income.”
As for the ethics committee, Hart told Eye on Boise this afternoon, “I would welcome the opportunity to tell my story.”
In his op-ed piece, Hart writes that the IRS denied eight years of his business deductions because he refused to provide those names. However, federal court documents filed in both California and Idaho in June of 2007 show the IRS and Hart both agreed that he could provide the book-sale information with buyers’ names redacted, and that the IRS agreed not to seek that same information again. Hart suggests in his op-ed that the IRS is defying the court stipulations: “For them, this isn’t about the liens or the money; it is about getting the names,” he writes. He said this afternoon, “Well the reality is, they did it.”
“It’s a nightmare,” Hart writes in his op-ed article. “I would happily trade places with any of my detractors who somehow think I’ve gotten a ‘good deal.’ Regardless of whether or not the income tax on wages and salaries is constitutional, most agree on one thing: it is an inefficient and privacy invading tax. It is also subject to manipulation and abuse. Is it then wrong to fight for my legitimate deductions and to stand on my principals(sic)?”
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Republican congressional hopeful Raul Labrador failed to include his past role as president of a company that sold self-help kits on legal immigration to America in a U.S. House of Representatives filing this year. The financial disclosure form, required of all congressional candidates, also doesn’t list Labrador Properties, LLC., according to a review of campaign and public records by The Associated Press. The form requires candidates to report any position held in the current calendar year and past two years. Labrador reported his position as Labrador Law Offices president in his March filing. But Idaho Secretary of State records show Labrador Properties and Labrador Group, Ltd., which operated under the business name www.rapidimmigration.com and was dissolved in May 2008, should have also been included. Labrador says he didn’t think the inactive businesses qualified for listing on the disclosure and he’ll fix it; click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.
Personal income in Idaho rose during the first quarter of 2010, marking two straight quarters of increase after declining or remaining stagnant for five quarters. The Idaho Department of Labor termed the news “another signal the state’s economy may have started to recover from its worst recession since World War II.” Idaho’s personal income increase of 1.3 percent was four-tenths of a point higher than the national increase, and ranked 10th among the states. Business profits, wages and salaries accounted for the increase; investment earnings were down. Wages and salaries are now back up to spring 2009 levels, but still well below the record set in the final quarter of 2007; you can read the full announcement here from the Department of Labor.
The Idaho Transportation Department has scheduled an additional public meeting in Moscow June 28 to provide information and hear public comment on plans by Imperial Oil to truck up to 200 large pieces of equipment on U.S. Highway 12 from Lewiston to Montana; that route includes the wild and scenic river corridor of the Lochsa River. The oil company’s equipment is bound for the Kearl oil sands project in northern Alberta, Canada. ITD said it scheduled the Moscow public meeting at the request of state Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow. Click below to read ITD’s announcement.
Idaho’s State Board of Education, meeting yesterday in Idaho Falls, backed upgrades in the University of Idaho’s athletic facilities but was leery of a UI proposal to establish a new nonprofit research lab in Post Falls; that proposal was delayed until the board’s August meeting. Board members noted that issues of mismanagement, nepotism, misuse of resources and allegations of grant fraud plagued the lab’s predecessor, the Center for Advanced Microelectronics and Biomolecular Research. The board also approved one-year contract extensions, without any raises, for all university presidents, the Lewiston Tribune reports. Click below to read a full report from Tribune reporter Joel Mills.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, said he discussed Rep. Phil Hart’s case with “many” members of his House minority caucus, and also heard lots of comment from the public about it, before deciding to formally call for a House ethics committee to be convened. “I think there are significant questions among both legislators and the general public about the behaviors and whether they’re ethically appropriate or not,” Rusche said. “The Legislature has an ethical cloud hanging over it. It really is not a good deal for any of us, minority or majority legislators.”
He added, “I don’t want it to be viewed as a political thing, but rather an ethical investigation to protect the process in the House of Representatives.”
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on how the Idaho House will convene a rare ethics committee to look into a complaint regarding Rep. Phil Hart.
The last time the Idaho House convened an ethics committee was in 2003, when then-Speaker Bruce Newcomb called for the committee to investigate himself for holding a closed meeting with a quorum of the House Revenue & Taxation Committee; the panel cleared Newcomb of any wrongdoing. In 2005, the Idaho Senate convened an ethics committee that censured then-Sen. Jack Noble after he introduced legislation that would have made his own convenience store eligible for a state liquor license, though it’s across the street from an elementary school, without disclosing his personal stake in the issue, and then lied about it to the Ethics Committee. Noble resigned on the eve of a Senate vote on whether to expel him from office.
Current Speaker Lawerence Denney said it’s rare for an ethics committee to be convened; this will be his first since he’s been speaker. “It is (rare), and that’s really good,” he said.
House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, has filed a formal request for the Speaker of the House to convene an ethics committee to look into two issues regarding Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol: Hart’s invoking of legislative privilege from civil process in his personal tax disputes over income taxes with the IRS and the Idaho State Tax Commission; and Hart’s service on the House Revenue & Taxation Committee while pressing his own case in a state tax appeal that Idaho’s income tax is unconstitutional. “Does he have a conflict, if he’s trying to set aside tax law through his personal suit while at the same time he’s sitting on the committee making tax law for everybody?” Rusche asked. He also questioned whether “by invoking the privilege in the manner he has, is that abusing the privilege of a legislator.”
Under House Rule 76 (click below to read the full rule), Rusche’s submission of the complaint requires House Speaker Lawerence Denney to appoint an ethics committee of seven senior House members, four from the majority party and three from the minority. The committee then will conduct a preliminary investigation, and if probable cause is found that an ethics violation has occurred, it can hold a hearing and make recommendations to the full House ranging from dismissal of the charges to expulsion from the House.
Denney, who is attending a conference of speakers of the House in Maryland, said, “I haven’t officially received it yet, but when I do get the official one, I will immediately appoint an ethics committee and appoint a chairman.” He returns to Idaho on Sunday; Denney said he’ll likely appoint the committee by around the end of next week. “Really, I think this is probably as good a way to handle this whole thing as anything,” he said.
Earlier, Denney had been sympathetic to Hart, who has invoked his status as a state legislator to argue that he should be able to appeal an order to pay $53,000 in back state income taxes, penalties and interest despite having missed a filing deadline. Denney had even planned to go to the Attorney General and make a case for giving Hart more time; now, he said, he’ll hold off on that.
This year’s legislative session began a few days after Hart’s 91-day appeal period ran out on hisback state income taxes; he argues that legislative privilege should stop the clock and give him until spring to appeal. Hart also is fighting the IRS, which has filed nearly $300,000 in tax liens against him in Kootenai County in the past year; he stopped filing state and federal income taxes in 1996 while he pressed an unsuccessful lawsuit charging the income tax was unconstitutional. He’s since made partial payment.
Idaho’s State Board of Examiners made it official this week - no further holdbacks will need to be imposed to balance Idaho’s state budget by the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Instead, following legislation passed this year and signed into law by Gov. Butch Otter, the state will meet any year-end shortfall by dipping first into any unexpended money in the Budget Stabilization Fund; second into unspent money in the Permanent Building Fund that’s now tabbed for state building maintenance work next year; and third, if needed, into the Economic Recovery Reserve Fund. None of those three funds actually have extra money sitting in them; all their funds are budgeted to be spent next year, in fiscal year 2011. But Wayne Hammon, Otter’s budget chief, said some year-end reversions are expected to put unspent money back into the budget stabilization fund, and shifting building maintenance money was identified as a second step that should easily cover any shortfall.
“While building maintenance is important, people are more important than buildings,” Hammon said. “For right now, they’ve decided that people come before buildings.” The state Board of Examiners was presented with two scenarios for the year-end state budget picture: One showing a $19.6 million surplus, which is what would happen if original revenue forecasts held true; and one showing a $7 million shortfall. State tax revenues have come in short of projections, including notably in April, but came in $4 million ahead of projections in May, leaving the cumulative shortfall at $7.5 million. The state also anticipates a possible shortfall in June revenues, but expects some money to revert back to the general fund from the state’s income tax refund account at the end of June, leading to the $7 million projection.
If Idaho had to take the third step laid out in the budget-balancing bill - dipping into the Economic Recovery Reserve Fund, which already is budgeted to be fully spent next year - it’d have to make cuts in next year’s budget. But Hammon said that now appears unlikely. Idaho’s only remaining budget reserve funds now are $17.5 million in the public education stabilization fund, which the plan doesn’t touch; and $71 million in the Millenium Fund, which lawmakers and the governor chose to keep as a reserve in case a federal funding boost for Medicaid doesn’t come through.
According to the latest statistical report from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare, the top cause of death for Idahoans is cancer, which crept ahead of heart disease in 2008 to claim the top spot. Chronic lower respiratory diseases, including emphysema, asthma and chronic bronchitis, were the third-most common cause of death; followed by accidents (no. 4), cerebrovascular disease including strokes (no. 5), Alzheimer’s (no. 6), diabetes (no. 7), suicide (no. 8), flu/pneumonia (9th), and kidney disease (10th).
A few other oddments from the newly published Idaho Vital Statistics report (2008 data): 43.5 percent of all births in Benewah County were to unmarried women, the highest in the state, followed closely by Clearwater, Shoshone and Nez Perce counties. The state’s oldest bride in 2008 was 89, while the oldest groom was 90; the youngest bride was 14 and the youngest groom was 16. One Idaho couple divorced in 2008 after 71 years of marriage; another after 17 days. And the most common baby names in Idaho in 2008: Olivia for girls, and Ethan for boys.
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred says he’s grateful a campaign website has deleted material attacking his stance on Idaho’s state budget, but the business group behind the Internet page says it sticks by its claim. Allred contends the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, on its www.allredink.com website, falsely claimed the Democrat would have left Idaho with a 2010 budget deficit. In a letter made public Wednesday, Allred thanked the group’s board for taking down the information. But Alex LaBeau, the business group’s lobbyist, said it only took down the information because it had become dated. LaBeau, whose group supports Republican Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, called Allred’s thank-you “silly,” because his group still believes the Democrat’s budget plan was too optimistic and could have led to tax hikes, had the 2010 Legislature adopted it.
LaBeau told Eye on Boise the claims on the site were up for only a few weeks; he also said he hadn’t seen Allred’s letter. “It had nothing to do with anything other than the fact that the information was old, and so we took it down,” LaBeau said.
Idaho’s top state elected officials have voted unanimously to sign a 29-year lease of state lands for a proposed feldspar and quartz mine and mill near Bovill, Idaho, though the Canadian firm proposing the project has generated no operating income and is deemed financially “high-risk.” Jane Wittmyer, consultant for the i-minerals USA project, told Idaho’s state Land Board the project could generate 60 to 80 new jobs in the area. “The bottom line is this is a good project that will help fund the endowments,” she said. Idaho’s state endowment lands largely benefit the state’s public schools.
The state Land Board, which consists of the governor, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State, the state controller, and the state superintendent of schools, voted unanimously in favor of the lease on Tuesday. At the recommendation of state lands staff, it’ll be a “phased” lease, requiring increasing payments and bonding as the project progresses. The firm first applied for a lease in 2008; the project is enthusiastically supported by local officials in the area including Benewah County Commission Chairman Jack Buell. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Here’s a link to my full story today on how Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, has used the legislative session to hold off the tax man four times in the six years he’s served as a state lawmaker, starting his first year in office; and here’s a link to a letter from a Spokane attorney that Hart submitted to the state Board of Tax Appeals to bolster his case. Washington has a very similar legislative privilege clause in its state constitution to the one that Hart cites in Idaho’s constitution, but Hugh Spitzer, who teaches state constitutional law at the University of Washington School of Law, said he hasn’t heard of lawmakers invoking it in similar situations.
“The reason for these provisions, which are very common not only in the United States but throughout the world, is to protect elected legislators from harassment by their opponents,” Spitzer said. “It became very important in England in the 17th century … because the kings would try to shut down parliament, arrest members of parliament with whom the king disagreed.” But, he said, “It’s one thing to say the government can’t force you to do something, can’t arrest you, can’t harass you with a new lawsuit, but it’s another thing to say that this somehow frees you up from procedural requirements of litigation in which you are already involved, and that you have a right to an automatic stay.”
A new survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows teen meth use in Idaho dropped by 52 percent from 2007 to 2009, from 6.4 percent of teens using the drug to 3.1 percent. It was the largest decline of any state during that time period; meanwhile, the national rate of teen meth use dropped from 4.4 percent to 4.1 percent. “These numbers are extremely encouraging,” said Gov. Butch Otter. “They clearly demonstrate that Idaho’s integrated approach to addressing our methamphetamine problem is having an impact.” Click below for his full news release.
It turns out that Rep. Phil Hart’s current dispute with the Idaho State Tax Commission and state Board of Tax Appeals isn’t the first time he’s invoked his status as a state legislator to hold off the tax man. In 2006, as a newly elected lawmaker with just one session under his belt, Hart came to Boise for a one-day special session called by then-Gov. Jim Risch. While Hart was in the state Capitol, an IRS employee snagged him and served him with a document subpoena. “They just caught me in the building. It was a surprise,” Hart said. “They just handed me some paper work and it was a summons, and that was that.”
He protested, noting the state Constitution’s protection of lawmakers from civil process while in session, and the IRS served him with the same summons again in November during a face-to-face meeting. Hart took that as a sign he’d won on the civil process question.
Then, in January of 2008, the Internal Revenue Service mailed a Notice of Deficiency on income taxes to Hart during the first week of the month. “The legislative session commenced January 7 of that year and continued for approximately three months,” according to a letter Hart requested from a Spokane attorney and submitted to bolster his case in his current state income tax appeal. “It appears that you are privileged to argue that the issuance of the NOD was ineffective under the legislative immunity provisions of the Idaho Constitution,” attorney Donald J. Gary Jr. wrote to Hart in September of 2009.
Then, on Hart’s state income tax dispute, the Idaho State Tax Commission issued Hart two notices of deficiency in September of 2008, covering tax years from 1996 to 2004. He protested the decision, and then, on Jan. 15, 2009, sent the state Tax Commission a letter asking to delay his hearing until 30 days after the adjournment of the 2009 legislative session. After being granted a delay to May 15, he sent another letter April 29 asking for another delay; that year’s legislative session ran until May 8. The Tax Commission agreed to another delay, but said the hearing should take place within two weeks of the end of the session. Hart then didn’t contact the commission until June 6, proposing dates in late June or July; the hearing finally was held on July 8, though the commission said he still didn’t provide all the requested documents. He then sent additional materials to the commission in September of 2009, including the letter from the Spokane attorney.
An Idaho state legislator is fighting the state Tax Commission over $53,000 in back taxes, interest and penalties, claiming in part that because he’s a legislator, he’s exempt from the deadlines for tax appeals that apply to all other taxpayers. Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, who also argued unsuccessfully to the Tax Commission that Idaho’s state income tax is unconstitutional, was notified on Oct. 2, 2009 that he owed the money and had 91 days to appeal. But Hart argued that time frame would run out 10 days before the start of the 2010 legislative session.
“As a member of the Legislature, I can defer filing an appeal and all the work that that entails while the Legislature is in session and 10 days prior to the beginning of the session,” he wrote in a Dec. 31 letter to the Tax Commission. Asked why he didn’t file his appeal during October, November or December, Hart said, “I don’t know. We were putting our game plan together.” On March 31, two days after the legislative session ended, Hart filed a notice of appeal, but he didn’t pay the full required prepayment of 20 percent of the amount owed until April 13. The state has now moved to dismiss Hart’s appeal for failing to file on time and failing to pay the required deposit on time.
Hart, the Tax Commission argues in legal documents, “is seeking to use his status as a legislator to relieve himself of having to comply with the statute of limitations.” The case is prompting debate about Idaho’s state constitutional provision that exempts lawmakers from “civil process” during the legislative session. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the Tax Commission’s published decision in Hart’s case - the decision he’s now appealing - here. Here’s a link to the state’s brief arguing for dismissal of the appeal; here’s Hart’s memorandum in opposition to dismissal; and here’s Hart’s motion for a time extension.
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Police say a 74-year-old Boise woman arrested after pouring mayonnaise in the Ada County library’s book drop box is a person of interest in a yearlong spree of condiment-related crimes of the same sort. Joy L. Cassidy was arrested Sunday at the library, moments after police say she pulled through the outside drive-through and dumped an open jar of mayonnaise in the box designated for reading materials. Cassidy has been released from the county jail and faces a misdemeanor charge of malicious injury to property. A motive was not disclosed by police. Boise police say Cassidy is under investigation for at least 10 similar cases of vandalism since May 2009. Library employees have reported finding books in the drop box covered in corn syrup and ketchup.
IACI, the big business lobby (Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry), is holding its annual conference today in McCall, and the group announced that its three-day gathering, which started yesterday, was kicked off by Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick, who joined IACI Chairman Trent Clark. “We sincerely appreciate Rep. Minnick’s willingness to be part of our annual meeting with the membership,” said IACI President Alex LaBeau. “His office has been very responsive to employers and employees throughout the state. Idaho is well represented.”
Also scheduled to speak today are Gov. Butch Otter, who speaks at noon; and Lt. Gov. Brad Little, who spoke at breakfast. What’s interesting about the group’s kind words for Minnick, a Democrat: IACI has been spending big bucks to boost the campaigns of incumbent Republicans, especially Otter. Through its “Idaho Prosperity Fund,” formerly the Idaho Business PAC, IACI had collected $118,526 in contributions as of a week before the primary, and spent a chunk of that on an attack website targeting Otter’s Democratic challenger, Keith Allred. The group also reported spending $6,000 shortly before the primary to promote the re-election of Supreme Court Justice Roger Burdick, and $8,000 on independent campaign expenditures for Sen. Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, the Senate GOP caucus chairman.
Among those donating to the fund: Micron Technology gave $23,500; Melaleuca Inc. gave $13,500; J.R. Simplot Co. gave $23,500; Idaho Association of Realtors gave $23,500; and Idaho Power Co. gave $23,500. IACI spent most of that money to hire a Florida firm, Orra SGS, which it also hired for both the Burdick and Fulcher pushes.
Here’s what Minnick had to say in today’s IACI press release: “I very much appreciate the opportunity to meet with Idaho business leaders at the annual IACI conference. As a businessman myself, I know that getting our economy back on track requires an environment where companies and their employees can innovate, grow and succeed. I know we can get there by continuing to work together on a shared vision for a prosperous Idaho.” IACI said there also are 45 invited state legislators from throughout the state attending its McCall conference (at IACI’s expense), which includes policy discussions, member-hosted dinners, and tomorrow, a golf tournament.
The IRS has filed nearly $300,000 in new federal tax liens against Idaho state Rep. Phil Hart in the past year, five years after Hart said he’d reached an agreement to repay $90,000 in back taxes, penalties and interest. The new liens, filed in Kootenai County, cover the tax years from 1997 through 2003, plus 2006 and 2008. They are against anything Hart owns or has rights to, including real estate, cars, business accounts receivable and more; such liens go on credit reports and can keep a delinquent taxpayer from getting a loan, signing a lease or obtaining credit.
Hart said, “I will eventually get through this, so it’s the motivation to get through it, I’ll put it that way. It’s like running on the beach where the water’s up to your knees.” But, he said, “I think it makes you a better legislator, to have these life experiences. … You get first-hand dealings with the bureaucracy, see how they operate, see how they interpret things, experience the process.”
House Speaker Lawerence Denney called Hart’s continuing tax woes “kind of a distraction for us, but it’s his personal thing.” Denney said, “I think certainly he does have experience that most of us don’t have and certainly don’t want to have. … It appears to me that the people up there love him.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, see the tax liens here, and read the 2000 U.S. Tax Court decision here in which a federal tax judge dismissed Hart’s lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the income tax.
The first invasive mussels have been found on a boat entering Idaho at a checkpoint on U.S. Highway 93 in Twin Falls County near the Nevada state line, the Times-News reports. The 20-foot pontoon boat, which was headed to Cascade from Lake Havasu, Nev., was impounded by authorities and decontaminated, a process that took an hour and a half and incurred no cost to the boat owner, a Donnelly resident. Last year, Idaho checkpoints conducted 18,450 boat inspections and found two confirmed cases of invasive quagga or zebra mussels, plus an additional unconfirmed report; last year’s mussels were found at North Idaho checkpoints; click here for the full story, including video, from Times-News reporter Pat Marcantonio.
Boise State University has accepted an invitation to join the Mountain West Conference and become its 10th member institution, joining such schools as the U.S. Air Force Academy, BYU, TCU and the University of Utah. The move is effective next summer, on July 1, 2011. The invitation to move from the Western Athletic Conference, or WAC, to the Mountain West, according to BSU President Bob Kustra, “reflects the excellence that Boise State University has demonstrated academically and athletically.” He said, “This move is in the best interests of Boise State’s future, and the university is excited to be part of one of the nation’s most outstanding conferences.” Click below for the full announcement from BSU.
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — May tax revenue beat forecasts by $4 million, moving Idaho closer to balancing its reduced 2010 budget with a month to go in the fiscal year. House Majority Leader Mike Moyle said May collections — about $144 million, according to preliminary figures — trimmed the budget shortfall through the fiscal year’s 11th month to $9.5 million, down from a $13.5 million shortfall after April. Still, Moyle remains concerned because of May sales tax receipts, a harbinger of economic activity, trailed expectations after exceeding them a month earlier. Lackluster sales-tax numbers were offset by a jump in miscellaneous tax revenue, including from mining activities. Moyle said, “You don’t bet the bank on miscellaneous mine tax revenue. The numbers you need to watch are June.” State economist Mike Ferguson has forecast Idaho will collect $238 million this month.
Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo issued a statement today expressing disappointment at the failure of resolution they backed, which failed today on a 47-53 vote, aimed at stopping the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases. Risch said, “The EPA rule is nothing more than another power grab by a federal agency and an erosion of the Constitution of this great country. It would lead to a massive tax on every aspect of American life from the ringing alarm clock in the morning to the last light switch turned off at night and it would be levied by bureaucrats who are not held accountable to the voice of the people.” Click below to read the full statement.
When the Senate Judiciary Committee took up the confirmation of Wendy Olson to be Idaho’s next U.S. Attorney today, the approval came quickly on a voice vote. “There had been lengthy debate about a judicial nomination earlier in the meeting, but there was no debate on Ms. Olson’s nomination,” said Erica Chabot, press secretary for committee Chairman Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont. Added Chabot, “We hope the Senate will move quickly to confirm the nomination, but do not know yet when that will occur.”
President Obama nominated Olson for the post on March 10; Idaho’s entire congressional delegation enthusiastically backed the nomination and pledged to shepherd it to confirmation. Minnick called Olson “an excellent lawyer with a distinguished record of service and legal experience.” Said Sen. Mike Crapo, “She knows Idaho and the law.” Sen. Jim Risch called her “an excellent choice.”
A legal news site is reporting that Wendy Olson has been confirmed by the Senate Judiciary Committee as Idaho’s new U.S. Attorney. Olson, the current senior litigation counsel for Idaho’s U.S. Attorney’s office, has worked there since 1997 and played a key role in the successful death penalty prosecution of North Idaho multiple murderer Joseph Duncan, among many other cases. She’s a Pocatello native, a graduate of Drake University with a law degree from Stanford, and a board member of Idaho Women Lawyers. A federal criminal prosecutor throughout her career, she’s also taught at George Washington University law school, served as president of the Treasure Valley Tennis Association, and been an active volunteer for Little League, youth soccer and youth basketball. Olson’s nomination was recommended to President Obama by Idaho’s senior Democratic elected official, Congressman Walt Minnick. If confirmed by the full Senate, she succeeds current U.S. Attorney Tom Moss, who has served since 2001.
Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com and to links to briefs from both sides in today’s oral arguments at the Idaho Supreme Court in the Land Board case, in which Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden is suing the board - on which he serves - contending it violated the Idaho Constitution when it set rents for state-owned cabin sites well below market rents. The plan the board adopted in March would result in an effective rental rate of just 1.8 percent of current market value next year.
Here’s a news item from the Lewiston Tribune, via The Associated Press: GRANGEVILLE, Idaho (AP) — For erstwhile Idaho gubernatorial candidate Rex Rammell, home may be where his voters are. Rammell, a veterinarian who ran second in May 25’s Republican gubernatorial primary to Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter, may be moving from eastern Idaho to northcentral Idaho’s Idaho County. It was one of just two counties won last month by Rammell, who ran as the darling of tea party Republicans. He got 1,510 votes in Idaho County, Otter only won 1,296. While campaigning, Rammell says he took a liking to the region’s geography, its big game and its people — especially those who picked him. He told the Lewiston Tribune it “I’m popular up there.” He also says there’s a shortage of large-animal veterinarians. He plans to spend the summer, to see if he wants to stay for good.
An issue that was discussed in the briefs filed with the Idaho Supreme Court on the Land Board case, but that didn’t come up specifically during the oral arguments in the case today, is that Idaho’s Land Board has charged 2.5 percent of value annually in rents for state endowment-owned cabin sites since 1998, but due to repeated rent freezes, actually charges an effective rate well below that amount. The new plan approved in March would charge 4 percent, but instead of applying that percentage to current values it would apply it to a 10-year rolling average of values, and then would set a five-year phase-in to reach the resulting rent figure.
Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, in legal arguments filed with the court, noted that the rolling average and the phase-in mean that for the next five years, effective rents actually would be 1.8 percent of current market value in 2011; 2 percent in 2012; 2.2 percent in 2013; 2.4 percent in 2014, and 2.6 percent in 2015 - less than the rates the state is charging now, which the Land Board has acknowledged are short of market rents. Several studies commissioned by the Land Board over the years have said market rents would be between 3.5 and 6 percent of current market value, but the board has never set them that high. In 1990, the state abolished conflict auctions for cabin-site leases when they come up for renewal.
Interestingly, Idaho Supreme Court justices allowed Deputy Attorney General Melissa Moody, speaking for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden’s side, to give her entire presentation before asking her questions during arguments on the Land Board case today, while they interrupted attorney Merlyn Clark, representing the Land Board, with questions no more than 30 seconds into his argument. Still, there were plenty of questions from the justices for both sides. Justice Roger Burdick compared the question of whether the court should intervene with another branch of government to the state’s long-running school lawsuit, saying, “We just had a political campaign where we argued this extensively as to whether or not we’ll … give orders to the executive and legislative branches.” Clark responded that the Land Board issue is “the same thing.”
When Clark argued that the Supreme Court can’t issue a writ unless the Land Board acted outside its jurisdiction, Burdick asked, “Doesn’t it boil down to this: That if you plainly acted unconstitutionally, you have no jurisdiction?” Clark agreed. Justice Joel Horton said by asking for a writ to prevent the Land Board from entering into leases unless they meet the requirements of the Constitution, Wasden asked for “I don’t want to say (a) meaningless request for relief, but a very broad request.” Horton also asked both sides if it’s possible to achieve maximum return in a situation where the state owns the lots, but private parties own the cabins, a question Chief Justice Dan Eismann also probed; Moody said yes, while Clark said no. “There is no market rent for these properties,” he said.
When Moody argued that the problem is that Land Board members said their plan wouldn’t meet constitutional requirements and then approved it anyway, “flagrantly disregarding the law,” Eismann asked, “So the message you want us to send is don’t tell us what you’re doing … don’t admit it on the record?” Moody replied, “The message we want to send is do it right - comply with the Constitution.”
Former Justice Linda Copple Trout, who sat in for Justice Jim Jones, who recused himself from the case, asked whether premium rent should be considered part of an overall plan to collect market rents on state-owned cabin sites, even if annual rents fall short of that standard. Moody replied, “No, under Idaho Code, they have to get market value progressively and they are not allowed to catch up at the end of a lease term.”
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden said after today’s Supreme Court arguments on the Land Board case, “I thought that both sides represented the case well. The court has a couple of options here; we knew that going in.” The court, he said, could either issue a writ of prohibition against the state Land Board, as Wasden requested; or it could deny the writ and “send us to the district court.” He said, “I thought the arguments were well constructed and well presented to the court, and I thought the questions were pretty telling as far as the interest of the court.”
One light moment in today’s Idaho Supreme Court arguments on the Land Board case came when Justice Roger Burdick, who asked by far the most questions today, asked Deputy Attorney General Melissa Moody for an explanation of the new “premium rent” plan for state-owned cabin sites, in which, on the sale of a cabin lease, the state would get either 10 percent of the amount the seller got for the value of the lease (sale price less value of seller’s improvements, including buildings), or 50 percent of the seller’s profit on the lease value compared to the price for which it was purchased.
Moody explained that if someone bought a lease for $500,000 in 2006 and sold it for $700,000 in 2010, they’d pay $100,000 in premium rent, under the plan, because 50 percent of the gain is greater than 10 percent of $700,000. Burdick responded, “What demented genius came up with this?” Amid laughter, some in the full courtroom turned to Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who sat watching from the second row of the audience.
Ysursa, who chaired the Land Board’s cottage site subcommittee that proposed the plan, said with a chuckle after the court proceeding, “I almost wanted to jump up and say a few words on a couple of things.” He said, “We’ll anxiously await the decision. I thought both sides acquitted themselves well, as far as the legal arguments. This is what the rule of law is all about.”
Idaho’s state Land Board set rents for state-owned cabin sites for an upcoming 10-year lease period “that it knew would not achieve market rent, and it said so on the record,” Deputy Idaho Attorney General Melissa Moody told the Idaho Supreme Court today. “Attorney General Wasden is not challenging the rate. … We’re not here because he thinks the rate is too low. We’re here because the board itself set a rate that it said is too low.”
Wasden has taken the unusual step of suing the Land Board - on which he serves - over the rents it set by a 3-2 vote in March for state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes, because he said the board violated the Idaho Constitution’s requirement that it garner the maximum long-term returns from state endowment lands, which largely benefit the state’s public schools. State law says that’s to be done by charging market rents throughout the term of the lease. Justice Warren Jones, questioning Merlyn Clark, the private attorney who argued today on behalf of the Land Board, said, “I got the impression, looking through the record, that everybody on the board realized what they’re charging is not market rent.”
Clark responded, “These statements are not attributable to the board. … They are individual members of the board.” He said, “The board has taken action.” Clark argued that how to obtain maximum long-term returns for the endowment is up to the discretion of the Land Board. “They do the best they can - if they’re wrong, they’re wrong,” he said. He filed a motion to dismiss the case on grounds that it could be taken up a lower-court filing under the Administrative Procedures Act, but Clark admitted today that that could be lengthy, and could mean litigating each cabin-site lot’s value individually. “If you send it to the district court, it’s going to go on for a long, long time,” he said.
Wasden has asked the Supreme Court to issue a “writ of prohibition” preventing any further action on leasing the cabin sites - leases for all the cabin sites expire at the end of this year, and new leases are being drafted now - until they are leased under terms meeting the requirements of the Idaho Constitution. After hearing the arguments from both sides today and asking plenty of questions, the justices took the case under advisement. Their average time to issue a ruling is 60 days.
Idaho’s state Board of Examiners voted unanimously today to transfer another $11 million from the state’s general fund to the tax refund account, to make sure Idaho income taxpayers’ refunds go out on time (and to avoid the state having to pay interest, which would have been assessed on refunds not paid out by June 15, with the interest calculation going back to April 15). It was the third time this year the board has had to make such a transfer; in March, it transferred $30 million, though the Tax Commission had requested $45 million; a month later, it had to transfer the other $15 million.
Tax Commission staffer Mark Poppler told the board the additional $11 million is essentially a short-term loan - the Tax Commission should be able to pay it back to the general fund before the end of June, plus some. Current forecasts show the refund account will transfer about $15.7 million back to the general fund at the end of the month.
It’s all part of a rather odd dance Idaho performs, with a tax refund account that starts each year with $1.5 million in it, an amount that then goes up and down as taxes are paid in and refunds out. In two of the last three years, similar spring transfers have been needed. As people pay their taxes, 20 percent goes into the refund account, while the rest is “swept” daily into the general fund.
Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, who made the motion to approve the latest transfer, said some of the state’s procedures and laws for handling the refund account appear to be outdated and don’t fit with current budgetary practice; he suggested the executive and legislative branches look at the process and consider any needed updates. State Tax Commission Chairman Royce Chigbrow, however, told the board he believes “the system is working,” and the need to go repeatedly before the Board of Examiners - which called special meetings to hear the emergency requests - is “a good internal control feature.”
Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, who presided over the Board of Examiners meeting as acting governor, said, “The money that needs to be refunded is not the state’s money, it’s obviously the citizens’ money.”
Disaster emergencies have been declared by the governor today for three Idaho counties - Adams, Idaho and Valley - due to flooding. But those declarations weren’t signed by Gov. Butch Otter; he’s on a trade mission to China. And they weren’t signed by Lt. Gov. Brad Little - he’s in New York with state Treasurer Ron Crane, on Crane’s annual trip to negotiate the state’s bond ratings.
Today’s acting governor is Senate President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes, who’s been filling that role since Sunday and will continue until mid-day tomorrow when Little returns.
In addition to signing the disaster declarations, Geddes presided today over a special meeting of the state Board of Examiners.
Geddes said he figures he’s served as acting governor 30 or 40 times in the last 10 years. If he’s not in the state, the role falls to the Speaker of the House. Said Geddes, “You can do about anything you want as acting governor, but you’d better not do too much.”
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The Boise Airport will keep an air-traffic control system that federal aviation officials had once aimed to relocate to Salt Lake City. The Federal Aviation Administration’s announcement Tuesday that it has abandoned plans to uproot the Terminal Radar Approach Control system, or TRACON, is a victory for Idaho’s U.S. congressional delegation, which lobbied hard to keep the system. A 2005 FAA study concluded moving the system that keeps track of air traffic between five and 65 miles outside Boise would save $24 million over the next 25 years. But Idaho air traffic controllers union members objected, saying the study inflated savings and ignored the safety needs of diverse air traffic over Idaho’s capital. Boise Airport controllers oversee commercial and general aviation, the National Interagency Fire Center’s wildfire-fighting planes, military aircraft and cargo planes.
The early light kisses the hills around Lucky Peak Lake this morning, just after sunrise, as a lone windsurfer skims across the lake. Boise’s cool, rainy spring has put a crimp on the usual spring recreation for this time of year, so today - forecast to be the one warm, sunny day of the week - drew people out early, from windsurfers and kitesailors to swimmers preparing for the upcoming Ironman triathlon. Chris Lee, pictured here, was the first out.
Fired ITD Director Pam Lowe has filed her response to the state’s arguments against granting the core of her wrongful-firing claims in a partial judgment, and Lowe’s lawyers contend the state’s arguments misconstrued case law, overlooked clear rulings from the Idaho Supreme Court that an employee isn’t considered “at-will” if the law limits the reasons for which she can be fired, and failed to address the Legislature’s Statement of Purpose for the 1974 law that says an ITD director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board for inefficiency, neglect of duty, malfeasance or nonfeasance in office.” The original SOP, submitted to the court earlier by Lowe’s lawyers, says the director “shall serve at the pleasure of the board and may be removed by the board only for stated cause.”
The board cited none of those reasons when it fired Lowe, instead saying her firing would improve “customer service, economy of operations, accountability and our relations with the Legislature.” Lowe contends she was fired for refusing to scale back a hefty contract with politically well-connected firms and that she was targeted for her gender; she was the first woman to head the department, and has now been replaced by a man who’s being paid $22,000 a year more than she was. The state has argued she was merely an “at-will” employee and could be fired at any time, for any reason or no reason, with no required hearings or other steps. It’s contended the list of reasons for firing the director are merely examples. U.S. District Magistrate Judge Ron Bush has scheduled arguments on Lowe’s motion - which centers on the “at-will” issue - for July. You can read Lowe’s response here; it was filed today.
The Forest Service has issued new temporary guidelines on filming in wilderness areas under its jurisdiction, but they’re kicking off even more controversy in a debate that began when Idaho Public TV was first refused permission to film a student conservation project in the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness, then granted permission after Gov. Butch Otter and Congressman Mike Simpson complained. Click below to read a full report from AP reporter John Miller.
An Eagle man who admitted poaching a young wolf in 2009 has been sentenced to $1,064 in fines and costs; six months in jail with five months and 28 days suspended and the option for 40 hours of community service instead of jail; one year of unsupervised probation; and suspension of his hunting privileges for one year. Randy R. Strickland of Eagle shot the young female wolf Sept. 6, 2009 while standing in the road at the back of his pickup truck in a zone in Valley County that was closed to wolf hunting at the time; he then reported that he’d shot the wolf in a different zone that was open for wolf hunting. He initially pleaded innocent to misdemeanor charges of taking a game animal illegally and shooting from or across a public highway, but last month changed his plea to guilty. Click below to read the full announcement from Idaho Fish & Game.
A North Idaho legislator has filed a lawsuit against the state over secret tax deals that allegedly allowed some wealthy and politically connected taxpayers to get millions in breaks. Those deals violated the Idaho Constitution, said Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, which requires taxing to be “uniform.” Examples listed in the lawsuit, filed this morning in 4th District Court in Boise:
* A wealthy Idaho resident was given a $1.6 million tax break before the audit report on that taxpayer’s case had been filed, and the case was removed from the Tax Commission’s auditors. Auditors had alleged the taxpayer was fraudulently claiming no substantial business operations in the state.
* One state tax commissioner “reversed an audit adjustment on a friend and individual who is prominent in Idaho politics.”
* A tax manager for a large Idaho company “told a commissioner in a protest hearing that his opinion was asked by the governor on all reappointments. This event occurred several months before the commissioner was up for reappointment and the taxpayer received a $100,000 discount.”
Ringo called the cases cited in the lawsuit “appalling.” “If those things have been going on, it just speaks to the need for reforms,” Ringo said. “I would put in on the emergency status, because I don’t want to accuse anybody of being corrupt, but I think it bears looking into.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho’s seasonally adjusted unemployment dropped for the third straight month in May, after 31 straight monthly rate increases going all the way back to August of 2007. May’s rate was down a tenth of a percentage point to 9 percent, which compares favorably to the national rate, which dropped two-tenths of a point to 9.7 percent in May. “The decline was modest, but it continues what appears to be a downward trend and another sign the worst of the recession may be past,” said Idaho Department of Labor Senior Analyst Eduardo Silva. Click here for more from the Idaho Department of Labor, including tables showing the rates around the state.
GOP challenger Raul Labrador has issued a response to 1st District Rep. Walt Minnick’s modified line-item bill being picked up by the Obama Administration and used as a model for a new administration bill. “I recognize the public relations value of Mr. Minnick’s claims, particularly this close to a tough election,” Labrador said in a statement issued late Thursday night. “But the simple fact is, the only thing that is going to stop this horrendous flow of red ink is a change in political leadership. The most effective thing we can do to arrest the irresponsible spending of this Congress is to take the gavel away from Nancy Pelosi.” You can read his full statement here; I just received it, as I was off Friday, though I did call Labrador for response Thursday as I was writing the story on the Minnick bill and waited until my deadline before filing the story without receiving it.
Gov. Butch Otter is touting a national fiscal survey of states as proof that this year’s legislative budget-setting decisions for 2011, including deep cuts to schools and other state programs, were the right ones, as other states are facing large shortfalls. “We are doing our best to help everyone through this rough patch,” Otter said. “Like any family or any business, we are working for a more prosperous future while protecting what we have and positioning ourselves for a quicker and more robust recovery by not promising what we don’t yet know we can deliver.” Click below to read Otter’s full release.
Legislation proposed by freshman Idaho Congressman Walt Minnick to make it easier for the president to push Congress to slice specific items out of big spending bills has been latched onto by the Obama Administration, which last week introduced its own bill modeled after Minnick’s. Minnick’s chief of staff, Kate Haas, said prospects for the bill’s passage are good. “I think you’ll find bipartisan support in Congress for reduced spending and restoring fiscal discipline,” she said. “It’s something that is near and dear to Walt, but near and dear to others also.”
Both bills - Minnick’s was called the “Budget Enforcement Legislative Tool Act of 2010,” or the BELT Act, while the Obama Administration’s is the “Reduce Unnecessary Spending Act of 2010” - would let the president pick out a list of items from a bill and send it back to Congress for a fast-track, up-or-down vote. It’s a step toward a line-item veto, but one that’s been declared constitutional by the House legislative counsel; an actual line-item veto that Congress passed in 1996 was overturned as unconstitutional two years later. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa has announced fines against two groups that launched last-minute campaign attacks against an Idaho Supreme Court candidate without following the disclosure requirements of the state’s Sunshine Law. “Idaho Citizens for Justice” is being fined $1,300, and “Idaho Citizens for Commonsense Solutions” is being fined $600; the latter group provided half the funding for the former, which paid for nearly $40,000 in ads and fliers attacking Judge John Bradbury and touting sitting Justice Roger Burdick, against whom Bradbury was running in last week’s election; Burdick won. Once the two groups were contacted by the state and belatedly filed the required disclosures, it emerged that all the funding for both came from Melaleuca Inc., a personal-care products firm in eastern Idaho headed by conservative activist Frank VanderSloot.
The fines are for failure to file timely notice of the formation of the groups and of the last-minute independent campaign expenditures before the election, Ysursa said. “Timely pre-election disclosure is the key to the Sunshine Law,” he said. In letters to the two groups, Ysursa wrote, “One purpose of the Sunshine Law, as stated in I.C. 67-6601, is ‘to promote openness in government and avoiding secrecy by those giving financial support to state election campaigns…’ The Secretary of State is charged with enforcement of this law, and we take that charge seriously.”
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The ACLU has reached a settlement with the Idaho Department of Correction in a potentially class-action lawsuit over violence at a privately run prison near Boise. Under the agreement, the Idaho Department of Correction has agreed to “aggressively oversee compliance with any such order” a federal judge makes against private prison company Corrections Corporation of America in connection with the lawsuit. The ACLU filed the lawsuit against CCA and the state earlier this year, saying the Idaho Correctional Center is so violent that inmates refer to it as “gladiator school” and that guards deliberately expose prisoners to brutal beatings from other inmates. CCA has countered that the prison is under the constant supervision of the state and that it meets the highest professional standards in the country for correctional management.
The Boise Weekly reports today that violent assaults on inmates at Idaho’s privately-run Idaho Correctional Center increased in April and May after a drop in March, with six incidents in April and 11 in May through the 26th of the month. The Weekly obtained the information through a request under the Idaho Public Records Act. Among the incidents: On May 19, an ICC inmate with golf ball-sized lumps on his temple and the side of his head was hospitalized for emergency cranial surgery after an assault. In another, on May 24, two inmates beat another with a radio. The ICC, run by Corrections Corp. of America, is in the midst of a giant federal lawsuit over prison violence; you can read the Boise Weekly article here.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Keith Allred stood by his pickup truck - a Ford F-250 “SuperDuty” 4x4 - today to make a case that he’s the “fiscal conservative” in the race because, through his work at the nonpartisan citizen group The Common Interest, he helped defeat Gov. Butch Otter’s 2009 proposal to raise gas taxes and more than double car and pickup truck registration fees, and identified a $10 million error in one of Otter’s transportation funding bills that year. “I was doing it working for free for a citizens organization,” he said. Allred said heavy trucks should pay more, not cars and pickups, to reflect “their fair share of the wear and tear on the roads.” He noted that Otter’s transportation task force now is working on a new cost-allocation study to determine that fair share, after the governor’s initial proposal failed in the 2009 Legislature.
Allred, who held his press conference across from the state Capitol despite occasional light rain, said he wanted to use his truck as a prop, given the topic. Asked by a reporter, he also affirmed that the truck in question was his. “It’s hard to haul horses without a truck,” he said.
Just because a road easement was granted years ago along someone’s lakefront property doesn’t mean the property owner has given up the right to build a dock on the lake, the Idaho Supreme Court ruled today. The high court’s clear ruling puts an end to the Idaho Transportation Department’s repeated objections to certain lakefront landowners’ dock permits, and an attorney for the two landowners who won the case said he estimates another half-dozen Lake Coeur d’Alene owners are ready to submit their dock permits now that this case has been decided.
The case involved two owners of adjacent vacant lots in the Silver Beach area, east of the Beach House Restaurant along East Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive. That road, the former route of I-90 east of Coeur d’Alene, now has two lanes of traffic plus a bikeway park along the lake; former owners of the land gave ITD a road easement along the lakeshore in 1940. ITD argued that the road easement eliminated the owners’ dock rights, and the Idaho Land Board agreed and denied both dock permits in 2006. But others in similar situations had gotten such permits for years, including one issued just two months earlier. “You go down from either one of these two properties a mile, there’s over 30 docks,” said attorney John Magnuson, who represented both landowners, Chris Keenan and Lake CDA Investments LLC. “There’s a dock on the property each side of it.”
Idaho state Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, hailed the high court’s ruling, which he called “just super news.” Nonini introduced legislation in 2008 to declare ITD wrong and the landowners right; it passed the House narrowly, but died by one vote in a Senate committee. One wrinkle to the case: It only affects property where the road easement along the lakeshore was granted prior to 1953. That’s because after that time, ITD acquired full title to land it wanted for roads, rather than just easements. But Magnuson said there could be property affected by the ruling on lakes all over the state, as the time between statehood and 1953 was when Idaho was building roads around many of the state’s lakes. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com, and read the Supreme Court’s unanimous decision here.
Idaho is on track for an economic recovery in 2011, according to the state’s latest official forecast - though state lawmakers and the governor set a pessimistic budget for 2011 that requires historic cuts in education. The newest state forecast, issued in May, says, “Idaho’s economic recovery should be well established after this year, entering a period of modest growth beginning in 2011. … It has been awhile, but it is beginning to feel like a recovery.” The forecast is considerably sunnier in tone than the last official state forecast, which was issued in January; that one suggested “cautious optimism” and said, “Admittedly, risks to the economy exist, but it appears the worst is behind us.”
The Legislature and Gov. Butch Otter cut their own estimates of state tax revenues far below the official forecast to be on the safe side, even though the decision meant deep cuts in government programs including schools. Public schools saw an unprecedented overall funding cut for next year of 7.5 percent - $128.5 million - along with state authorization to cut pay for teachers and administrators, a statewide declaration of financial emergency for schools, and more. “The governor has said all along that we expect there to be a recovery - it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” said Otter’s spokesman, Jon Hanian. “We’ve gone through this difficult period. … His view is we need to be very frugal, very cautious and conservative in our budgeting. Really, nothing has changed to suggest that isn’t the prudent way to go. It’s Idaho common sense, that’s how he’s built this budget.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
The Idaho Republican Party is hiring two full-time staffers to spearhead a “parallel campaign” on behalf of newly nominated GOP congressional candidate Raul Labrador, who’s challenging 1st District Democratic Congressman Walt Minnick. Jonathan Parker, state GOP executive director, said he requested the funds for the two positions from the Republican National Committee, “essentially making the point that you can’t take Idaho for granted and CD 1 for granted, that we’re going to have to do everything in our power and run a competent campaign to unseat Walt Minnick. That’s the plan we’re putting together.”
The two staffers will be a “victory director,” Lindsay Hemmer, who will be based in Boise, and a North Idaho field office head, Jeff Ward, the current president of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans group. Both will start June 8. Minnick’s campaign manager, John Foster, said, “My friend Jonathan Parker obviously understands what everyone has known for a long time, is that this is going to be a ground game. And if it’s won or lost on the ground, I’m quite confident that Walt will be successful in November.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.
Jana Kemp, independent candidate for governor, says she was surprised to hear from some supporters that they were disappointed they couldn’t find her name on the May primary election ballot. “They said things like this: ‘I looked for you on the ballot and you weren’t there.’” Independents, of course, don’t participate in the May party primaries; they go directly to the general election ballot in November. Kemp is one of two independents running for governor; the other is “Pro-Life,” the candidate formerly known as Marvin Richardson before he changed his name to the slogan. “It’s just an education for me, having run as a Republican before, to see at an even deeper level how much confusion there is,” Kemp said. “Everyone’s busy trying to make ends meet on a daily basis, and so haven’t taken time to understand what doesn’t seem to be a nuance to me, but clearly is a nuance to the general populace, and it creates confusion as a result.”
Kemp, a Boise businesswoman, author and former GOP state representative, is one of five candidates on the ballot for governor; they include the party primary winners - incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter and Democratic challenger Keith Allred - along with the two independents and a Libertarian, Ted Dunlap of Kuna.
The Idaho Supreme Court has ruled that an Idaho state law authorized a state magistrate judge to order random drug tests of the parents of a youngster who was placed on juvenile probation for two counts of petit theft, but that the requirement violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The parents “do not have a diminished expectation of privacy in their bodies simply because their daughter is on juvenile probation,” the court held in a unanimous opinion authorized by Justice Warren Jones; you can read it here.
The court upheld an earlier ruling by the Idaho Court of Appeals in the case, State v. Doe, and overturned a district court ruling from Kootenai County upholding the urinalysis requirement. Interestingly, the high court’s opinion goes on at length about how there was proper statutory authority for the magistrate to order the tests under Idaho state law, in part because “drug use by a minor’s parents could reasonably detract from the minor’s education and rehabilitation.” But then, it notes, there’s that constitutional problem.
Here’s a news item from The Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state is fining private prison company Correction Corp. of America more than $40,000 and ordering it to fix problems with drug and alcohol treatment and medical care at the Idaho Correctional Center. Ten of 13 drug and alcohol counselors at the prison near Boise aren’t qualified to provide treatment under CCA’s contract with the state, according to records obtained by The Associated Press. Additionally, a medical audit done by Idaho Department of Correction officials at the prison earlier this year shows the private prison has extensive problems administering medical care, with inadequate records, delays in providing medications, immunizations and mental health care, and a lack of follow-up or oversight when inmates are returned to the lockup after being hospitalized. CCA, in a prepared statement, said that like the Idaho Department of Corrections it is concerned by the audit findings. The company also said it is working to hire qualified drug and alcohol program staffers.
Click below to read the full story from AP reporter Rebecca Boone.