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Lawmakers question state endowment land management, suggest sales, PILT

Lawmakers on the Natural Resources Interim Committee have raised an array of questions about management of state endowment lands. Among them: Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, asked state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna if Idaho might not have been better off to sell some of the endowment land when values were soaring, "if some of that land could've been liquidated," and give the money to schools. Luna said no. "I do not think it's wise to sell any of the assets to the endowment and distribute the money made off of that sale," he said. "I think through proper management, we ... take the money we've earned from that sale and invest it in other hopefully higher-profit generating ventures that then generate more revenue for the endowment. ... If it means distributing the corpus, then I don't think that's wise." Luna said some states have taken that route in the past "to the point where they have nothing left."

House Majority Leader Mike Moyle noted that the federal government pays PILT, or payments in lieu of taxes, to local communities for some federally owned land, and Idaho's Fish & Game Department now makes such payments when it purchases formerly private land and takes it off the tax rolls; a constitutional amendment authorized that. He suggested the endowment should look at something similar if it acquires property that formerly was private.

Rep. John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, said the state endowment's commercial property has seen its value drop from $45 million in 2007 to $36 million in 2010, and he said his calculations show the property's bringing in a return of just 2 percent of its value per year for the state. "It seems like that investment's going south," he said. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa noted that "the commercial property and the value of it goes with the market, and of course goes down if in fact commercial real estate has gone down." He noted, "I think taking snapshots is maybe a little bit unfair, as to how this is working. I think maybe you have to look at the long term on all this." He added, however, "I am concerned - you brought up some good points, and I'm going to ask those same questions myself."

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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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