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Eye On Boise

Land Board votes 4-1 to keep school funding from endowment even next year

Idaho's state Land Board voted 4-1 this morning to distribute $47.5 million to state endowment beneficiaries including public schools next year, up 2.3 percent overall from this year's distribution of $46.425 million, but with no increase for schools, which would get $31.29 million, identical to this year's level. State schools Supt. Tom Luna cast the lone dissenting vote, prompting a questioning look from Gov. Butch Otter, who's chairing the meeting, as he hadn't spoken against the motion from Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to approve the endowment board's recommendation. “I chose not to rehash my concerns I've expressed before at this time,” Luna said, “seeing it wasn't going to change any votes.” Otter responded, “You're probably right.”

Luna successfully advocated an additional $22 million payment from the endowment to schools the year before last to help ease them through state budget cuts, but the board agreed to that only on a one-time basis. The endowment board's recommendation is based on the state's management formula for the fund, that 5 percent of the permanent balance be distributed to the beneficiaries each year; the largest beneficiary is public schools, while others include the University of Idaho, State Hospital South, the state penitentiary, and other state institutions. That formula would actually result in a small reduction for schools and one other beneficiary next year, but endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson said there are sufficient reserves to make sticking with at least last year's level “prudent.”

Some of the other endowments have actually exceeded their targets for reserves; in accordance with the state's policy, $28.6 million from those funds' reserves will be transferred into their permanent funds. There's no transfer back for public schools, which now has enough reserves to cover three years of distributions, below the target of five years; all other endowments have five years' worth of reserves. “The recommended distributions and transfers are prudent and achievable, and … they represent an appropriate balance between current beneficiaries and future generations,” Johnson told the Land Board.

The distribution level approved by the Land Board today will now be built into budget requests for 2013 that lawmakers will consider in January.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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