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Ysursa: ‘Crossroads of three branches of government’ in endowment debate

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told the Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee today that after watching the process for the past 37 years, "I think we're at an interesting intersection, crossroads ... of the three branches of government dealing with endowment property." The executive branch, through the Land Board, manages the endowment. "We have the legislative branch who wants to know, and they're good questions, how far can they go in putting up sideboards on what we can do." And then, the judicial branch is weighing in: A decision is pending from the Idaho Supreme Court on whether a section of state law regarding not holding conflict auctions for endowment-owned cottage sites is constitutional. "The folks at the Supreme Court are going to have an opportunity to give us all some more guidance, I think, fairly quickly," Ysursa said. "We are going to get some more guidance from the State Supreme Court ... on how far can the Legislature set the sideboards."

He said, "I think the real evolution I've seen in the 37 years is that we don't wear two hats, we wear one hat." Court decision after court decision has come down telling the state that it can't consider other interests in managing endowment land, such as the health of the state's grazing industry or even the general public interest; it has to focus solely on getting the maximum long-term return for the endowment's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the public schools. "As a trustee, I totally understand the furor over some of our recent decisions and where some of our investments are," Ysursa said. "We're at an intersection. You have your interests as a legislative body. We certainly have ours as the executive branch, and very shortly the judicial branch will give us some more guidance. And I welcome this. ... I welcome and need legislative input, we need input from beneficiaries, to provide constructive alternatives."

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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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