ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here
Archive

Eye On Boise

Archive for August 2014

Ah, the lake…

Lake Coeur d'Alene, there it is… And now, back to Boise.

New 80 mph speed limit brings more tickets

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho State Police say troopers have handed out more speeding tickets on interstates where speed limits have increased to 80 mph compared to the same time period last year. The agency tells the Idaho Statesman (http://bit.ly/1AXmt2b) in a story on Thursday that some drivers appear to think the new 80 mph speed limit means they can drive 90 mph. But agency spokeswoman Teresa Baker says troopers aren't giving a break on speeding tickets to anyone going over 80 mph. Speed limits on rural sections of Interstates 84, 86 and 15 increased from 75 to 80 mph in late July. The agency says at least two crashes in south-central Idaho can be attributed to the higher speed due to drivers misjudging distance and then not being able to react fast enough.

Comparing state endowment’s take from yesterday’s auction to cabin-site rents…

At yesterday’s auction of state-owned Priest Lake cabin sites at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, many in the crowd were wondering if the state really was getting a better deal for the state’s schoolchildren – the beneficiaries of the Priest Lake state endowment lands – by divesting itself of the cabin sites. The 59 cabin-site renters are currently being charged rent at 4 percent of appraised value for the ground under their cabins, which came to a total this year of $1,070,857.

Last night, the state endowment’s take from the auction was $26,903,812. That’s more than 25 years’ worth of rent that it collected in a single night, at today’s rental rates. In the past year, the rent collected on the properties was actually significantly less, somewhere around $700,000, as the appraisals, on which the rents are based, were still in the process of going up. At that rate, last night’s take from the auction was a little over 38 years’ worth of rent payments.

As far as what Idaho’s endowment does with cash, its permanent endowment fund – the cash – is invested in the market and last year made a whopping 18.8 percent return. In the past five years, the cash fund has made an average of 14.7 percent a year; in the past 10 years, the average gain was 8.5 percent. Looking ahead, fund managers predict an average annual gain of 6.5 percent.

Aside from the cash, the state endowment’s biggest money-maker is its timber land. Last year, a record-high timber harvest of 347 million board-feet resulted in $53.5 million in profits for the endowment; the increased harvest was due in part to salvage logging of trees damaged by wildfires and insects. All cottage site rents statewide – the state started the year with 354 lakefront cabin sites at Priest Lake and 167 at Payette Lake, but has started selling them off now – came to a net of $4.2 million. Grazing land pulled in a paltry $775,000 after expenses. Oil and gas leases brought in $1.066 million for the endowment, a relatively new revenue source.

Idaho has now sold 95, or almost one-fifth, of its 534 cottage site lots at Priest Lake and Payette Lake. Plans call for another 36 lots at Payette Lake to be auctioned later this year, with the idea of shifting to assets with a better rate of return for the endowment.

Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa called the Priest Lake auction “a step in the right direction for the state of Idaho,” saying, “We’re implementing a decision of the Land Board to the benefit of Idaho’s public schools while providing resolution for many families eager to move on from leasing the land beneath their homes.”

Auction wraps up; 59 of 60 cabin sites sold

The first auction of state-owned cabin sites at Priest Lake has wrapped up, with 59 of the 60 lots sold, no current lessees being involuntarily outbid for their cabins, and the state’s public school endowment fund earning $26,903,812. The crowd here at the Coeur d’Alene Resort, though much smaller than it was earlier, is jubilant. One lot attracted no bids; when it was offered again at the end, it again attracted no bids. The site is at 11 S. Shore Outlet in Priest River; it’s appraised at $200,000, with the improvements and fees at an additional $128,800. On the second offering, the current lessee and cabin owner dropped her asking price for the improvements and fees to $100,000. However, there were still no bids; that site had been dropped from the auction earlier, then added back in at the last minute.

This was the first auction offered for Priest Lake cabin sites; earlier auctions for Payette Lake cabin sites had similar results, with nearly all selling for appraised value to the current lessees. As people filed out tonight, one woman commented, “That was stressful, that's for sure.” Another cabin owner said with a grin, “We're broke, but we feel good.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

More Priest Lake cabin sites selling at appraised values, with no competing bids

The auction's back on, and so far, all lots in the final batch at the Priest Lake cabin site auction have been selling for the appraised value to the current lessees. As before, applause and cheers from the crowd are greeting every “Sold” announcement from auctioneer Kent Corbett.

All but one in third batch sell for appraised value; schools’ take up to $20M

All but one of the 15 Priest Lake cabin sites in the third batch have sold for their appraised value; the one exception was the one where competitive bidding pushed the price up $9,000 above the appraisal, but the current lessee ended up the high bidder. All told, the auctions today so far have raised $20,078,812 for Idaho’s public school endowment. There still are 15 sites to go in the final batch, plus one that drew no bids earlier and is being held open for possible bids.

Denny Christenson walked out of the back room where he signed contracts to take ownership of the ground under his family cabin, and said, “It feels good. It’s going to be a while to sink in.” He added, “Twenty-three years as a lessee and having a landlord – now we don’t have a landlord. Now, we have a mortgage.” He chuckled, but said, “It went really smoothly.”

Another lessee who successfully gained ownership of the ground under her family’s cabin said, “We’re just happy to have this over with – and no comment.” Said another, “It’s been a mess for a couple of years.”

Billy Symmes accompanied his beaming mother out of the contract-signing room after finalizing the purchase of the ground under their family cabin, which they’ve had since 1994. “Getting to hold onto the cabin is great – the process, no comment,” he said.

More competitive bidding, but current lessee outbids competitor

The third batch of Priest Lake cabin sites is up now, and the third one, appraised at $630,000 for the lot and $177,600 for the cabin, drew competitive bidding. It went back and forth, finally selling for $639,000 – to the cabin owners, the current lessees. The outcome drew cheers and applause; the lessees said they had no idea who was bidding against them. Relieved, they headed to a back room to sign contracts. So far, others are again selling for their appraised values to the current lessees.

School endowment up to $13.7 million take so far from Priest Lake auction

By my calculations, the state's public school endowment has made $13,736,604 so far today from the auction of Priest Lake cabin sites. That's including the 14 lots that just came up for auction - all but one of which sold, while the one that attracted no bids is being held open until the end of the day - and the 16 auctioned earlier in the first batch.

There are still two more sets of cabin sites to go on the block today.

First competitive bidding makes an extra $123K for endowment over appraised value

The first competitive bidding of today’s Priest Lake cabin site auction just happened, with a lot appraised at $361,604 the subject of hotly contested bidding between two determined bidders, finally selling for $485,000. There was no applause after this one; just some murmuring. That cabin site, in Coolin, has improvements on it valued at $204,900. It was one of those for which the existing lessee had planned to have someone else bid on the lot and take it over; neither of the two people bidding today was the current lessee. The high bidder will have to pay the current lessee the appraised value for the improvements.

The next few lots all have sold for appraised value.

Then, one at 11 S. Shore Outlet Road, with the lot valued at $200,000, drew no bids. Auctioneer Kent Corbett said that one will remain open for bidding until the end of the day; the final group of cabin sites comes up for bids at 7 p.m. Pacific time.

Auction’s back on; more lots sell for appraised value

And the auction is back on, as sixty state cabin sites on Priest Lake are put on the auction block today at the Coeur d’Alene Resort. The first one in the second batch, a $650,000 lot with a cabin on it valued at $582,800, has, like the earlier ones, sold to the existing lessee for the appraised value. The result was greeted with cheers and applause. The white-haired couple with the winning bid was all smiles, exchanging greetings and back-slaps with well-wishers as they left the room to go sign contracts.

The second cabin site, a $480,000 lot with $171,100 worth of improvements on it, had a similar outcome; there were no competing bids.

Legislative panel launches look at how Idaho’s endowment is invested

An interim legislative committee kicked off a series of meetings today to look at how Idaho’s $1.7 billion state endowment is invested; it now generates more than $31 million a year for public schools from earnings both on state lands and investments of the cash in the permanent fund. Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert covered the panel’s meeting and has a report here.

School endowment has made $7.5M so far

By my calculations, the state's public school endowment has made $7,555,000 so far today at the auction of Priest Lake cabin sites. That's the amount that's been bid just for the land; the successful bidders were all the current lessees, so they already own the buildings on the property. But if anyone else gets a high bid, they must pay the current lessee appraised value for the improvements, which in the first batch ranged in value from $45,760 to $1.7 million, on top of the cost of the land.

The first 16 of 60 properties have been auctioned so far; three more groups are still set for auction, at 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., all Pacific time.

‘The process has been confusing and frustrating’

Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, has been watching today’s public auction of 60 state-owned lakefront cabin sites with interest. “We’re in the 5 o’clock session,” he said. “I’m encouraged.” When the first batch all went for appraised value, he said, “There were many happy lessees.”

Lessees, who rent the ground under the cabins from the state but build and own the improvements on them, have had “a lot of frustration,” he said, because of the fits and starts of state policy on the sites. All those in the auction today were earlier signed up for land exchanges, but the state Land Board canceled all the exchanges. “The process has been confusing and frustrating,” Christenson said. “It totally changed course at the end of last year, so there was lots of concern that the state would not follow through with the auction.”

Don Morris of Chewelah came to watch the auction today out of curiosity; his Priest Lake cabin is on a deeded site that he owns, so he’s not affected, but he used to own one on a state lease. “I’ve been on the lake since I was 15 years old,” Morris said. He said he was “a little surprised” that there was no competitive bidding on one of the cabin sites in the first batch that only had a $45,000 improvement value, because someone could have picked up the whole thing for less than $400,000. “A lot of the people that have been on the lake forever don’t want people to lose their places,” he said. “I kinda thought there might be more investors come in and try to snag some of these properties.” The real-estate company, Corbett Bottles, handling the auction “certainly did a good job” advertising it, Morris said.

When he bought his cabin in state leased land in 1972, it had a 99-year lease and the rent was $100 a year. That soon changed; the lease term dropped to 10 years, and the rent started going up. “I could just see that the price was going to get too much,” Morris said, so when he had a chance to buy a cabin on land he could own outright instead, he did it. Asked if it was worth the drive to watch the auction today, Morris said, “As soon as it’s done, I’m going to the lake.”

Relief, ‘tears of joy’ among Priest Lake cabin-site lessees…

Sixteen of the sixty Priest Lake cabin sites on the auction block today have now sold for their appraised value to the existing lessees, with no one bidding against them. There’s a lot of relief in the big ballroom, where, during the break before the next set of auctions in just over an hour, people are exchanging hugs. Among the comments in the crowd: “Congratulations – we are so happy for you! I saw your tears of joy.” “I know my gut’s been churning, and I’m not even in this round.” “There’s a little pressure in this room – can you imagine anyone bidding against this room?” “Taxes will be cheaper than the lease.”

Patrick Hodges, deputy director of the state Department of Lands, said, “I think it’s going well. It doesn’t surprise me that everything’s going for appraised value.” A lawsuit from a group of cabin-site lessees challenging the appraisals as too high is set for a court hearing tomorrow, seeking reconsideration of a judge’s earlier rejection of their bid to prevent the newest appraisals from being used for auctions or to set rents, but all those participating in today’s auction have signed papers agreeing to accept their current appraisals, so they aren’t affected by the outcome of that case.

First dozen-plus Priest Lake sites all sell at appraised prices

The first dozen-plus Priest Lake cabin sites to be auctioned today all have sold for the appraised value to the existing lessee, with no one else bidding. Each time, when the auctioneer, Kent Corbett, declared, “Sold!,” the crowd, which now includes lots of people standing up in back and along the sides along with hundreds seated in rows, erupted into cheers and applause – and occasionally whistles and shouts, too.

Corbett noted that the auction is moving along quickly. Slides of the cabin sites, the homes and their views of the lake are being projected on large screens up front during the bidding. “Folks, we’re not talking a whole lot about the properties because they’re all beautiful properties on Priest Lake and you’re all prepared, if you’re a serious bidder, you’re prepared to bid today,” the auctioneer said in his quick patter.

The most expensive lot sold so far was $665,000; the least expensive, $200,000. That $200,000 one was the site where Steve Hubbs has had his cabin for the past 15 years. As he was led to a waiting area to sign contracts, Hubbs said, “I don’t have any complaints. No one’s over-bid on any of ‘em, you notice?” He added, “I didn’t expect anyone to.”

The first batch of auctions wrapped up in just 25 minutes; the next batch is up at 3 p.m. Pacific time.

First two cabin sites sell to lessees at appraised value; cheers, applause follow

The first cabin site to come up for auction, on Cavanaugh Bay Road in Coolin, was appraised at $430,000. A bid was entered for that amount – and though the auctioneer repeatedly asked for a bid of $435,000, and then for $431,000, no one else bid. The lot sold to the first bidder, prompting a big burst of cheers and applause from the crowd – it went to the existing lessee.

The same happened with the second site, which sold for the appraised value, $485,000.

Number of cabin sites back up to 60

There are close to 250 people gathered in a ballroom at the Coeur d'Alene Resort now for the Priest Lake cabin-site auction, and state Lands Department deputy director Patrick Hodges says the number of sites on the auction block has jumped back up to 60, after one that had dropped out as of two days ago opted back in.

Some bidders have filed to bid on more than one property, the auctioneer has told the crowd. “Do not bid unless you are prepared to bid,” he said. “We’re bidding for land only. … The amount will be due in full today.”

People filtering in at CdA Resort for Priest Lake cabin-site auction…

People are filtering in to the Coeur d’Alene Resort ballroom where today’s auction of 59 cabin sites at Priest Lake is set to kick off at 1 p.m. Pacific time. Steven Hubbs, 68, who’s here to bid for the ground under the lakefront cabin he’s had for the last 15 years, is among the bidders looking through a thick packet of information on the various cabin sites. Asked what he thinks of the process, Hubbs, who lives in California, said, “It seems fair. I think a lot of the older people that have owned cabins on the lake for a long time, I think they’re at a disadvantage – I don’t think they’re being treated fairly. But for people who bought recently, I think it’s fair.”

I’ve spoken with several other cabin-site lessees who weren’t willing to talk on the record, and are visibly angry over the process. The starting price for the lots, which is set at the appraised value, ranges from $200,000 to $665,000. If someone other than the existing lessee gets the high bid, that person would also have to pay the existing lessee appraised value for the improvements on the land, including the cabin.

The growing crowd here includes some who are here just to watch, including some who also have Priest Lake cabins on state ground but aren't up for auction today.

Panel: No more ed-tech pilot grants, move focus statewide

Two years in, it’s time to scrap the state’s $3 million-a-year technology pilot project program in schools, a subcommittee of the State Board of Education has decided. “They felt like the pilot phase had been useful,” state board spokeswoman Marilyn Whitney said, “but it was time to take the lessons learned.” Idaho Education News reports that the panel recommended that the $3 million be rolled into statewide programs in the future, rather than given in grants to a small number of schools. The 26 pilot tech programs around the state wouldn’t be affected by the move; their funding already is in hand. Kevin Richert of Idaho EdNews has a full report here.

Federal lands interim committee adds seventh public hearing next month

The Federal Lands Interim Committee, a joint legislative interim committee co-chaired by Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has scheduled a seventh public hearing, this one in Sandpoint on Sept. 12. That’s in addition to the six already scheduled over the next two months, including Sept. 11 in Kamiah and St. Maries; Oct. 9 in Idaho Falls and Soda Springs; and Oct 10 in Twin Falls and Hailey.

The move already has prompted a “jeer” from the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial page that Denney “just happens to be making a series of statewide swings at taxpayer expense, right in the middle of campaign season, including stops next month in Kamiah and St. Maries.” Denney, former speaker of the House and current House resources chairman, is running for Idaho Secretary of State; he faces Democrat Holli Woodings in the November election.

Denney said, “We thought that it was important that the people have their say in what they think about the state taking over title to the federal lands. And that was certainly always the plan – last year was to be fact-finding, this year was more public hearing.”

Winder, Denney’s co-chairman, said, “We have to report back to the 2015 session. So in trying to coordinate schedules, it was very difficult to get anybody to where we could get like two days together, actually going back to July or August.” Denney said the pre-election timing “wasn’t my choice,” saying, “I would like to have started way earlier, because it’s going to take time away from me right when I think I need it most in the campaign. … I think it was just logistics.”

Asked why the panel is heading to small towns like Soda Springs, Kamiah and St. Maries, Denney said, “A lot of the people who want to come and testify are from these more rural areas, and why make them travel? … They always have to travel.”

Winder said the Sandpoint session was added at the request of Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who said her constituents “felt like it was too far to go to St. Maries to testify.”

The panel is charged, during its two years, to “undertake and complete a study of the process for the state of Idaho to acquire title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government.” It’s already spent more than $41,000 on legal fees to Bill Myers, a Boise attorney and former solicitor general for the Department of the Interior, whom it hired to advise it.  

Winder said, “We’re already pretty confident that from a legal perspective, we don’t stand on very firm ground if it were a matter of litigating. But we do think there are alternatives available to us in existing laws and potential for congressional changes in how the states interact with the federal agencies that manage public lands. … We think it’s worth the effort.”

Bond issue falls short in Idaho’s largest school district

Voters in Idaho’s largest school district – West Ada, formerly known as the Meridian district – have narrowly failed to pass a $105 million bond issue, which fell short in yesterday’s election though 63 percent supported it with just 37 percent opposed. Bond issues require a two-thirds supermajority to pass.

Idaho Education News reports that turnout was sparse in the school bond election, at just 9.5 percent of registered voters. It was the first bond issue sought by the district since 2005, and came in response to an 18 percent increase in student numbers since 2005-06. The bond was intended to fund the construction of two new middle schools, one new elementary school, renovation and expansion of  Meridian High and site purchases for future new schools; Idaho EdNews reporter Kevin Richert has a full report here; he also has a statewide roundup here on how various school bond levies and bond issue vote fared.

Military equipment in demand among Idaho police agencies

Idaho law enforcement agencies have received at least 2,905 pieces of donated military equipment worth more than $9.3 million, mostly during the past three years, the Idaho Statesman reports today, according to data from the Idaho State Police. They range from $1 pliers to MRAPs - mine-resistant ambush protected armored vehicles - worth anywhere from $412,000 to $733,000. Last September, the Idaho State Police requested a cargo plane. The MRAPs went to six police departments: Boise, Caldwell, Nampa, Pocatello, Post Falls and Preston.

The Statesman’s full report is online here. Reporters John Sowell and Audrey Dutton report that the military trappings are in high demand among Idaho agencies, and at least one local police department has received more military firearms than it has officers on its force.

Commerce chief apologizes, says firm getting tax incentive will be named when deal finalized

Idaho state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer apologized today for promising last week that the first recipient of Idaho’s generous new tax reimbursement incentive would be named at an Economic Development Council meeting today at which the council approved a 25 percent tax break for the firm. “I screwed up,” Sayer told Eye on Boise. “That wasn’t the agreement we made with the company.”

Today’s council approval is only preliminary, Sayer said; if the company accepts the offer for the tax incentive, a final agreement still would have to be negotiated. Once that’s approved, all aspects of the deal would become public, he said. “Today we are respecting the wishes of the company,” he said. “There are going to be situations where we give that approval only to have the company tell us ‘thanks but no thanks, we’ve chosen another state.’” That’s apparently not the case here, however.

“When an agreement is signed and a company does decide to choose Idaho, you’ll see us be completely transparent,” Sayer said. The information will be posted on a Commerce Department website, he said. “All of those details will be on the table.”

The information that Commerce is releasing today about the deal includes a one-page summary that you can read here. It says “Project Sky” is a project to build an aerospace maintenance facility in Ada County that would hire 50 full-time employees in 2015, with benefits, and expand to 100 over the next 12 years, with an average annual wage of $52,000. The council voted today to offer a 25 percent rebate of the firm’s sales, payroll and corporate income taxes for 12 years; the new incentive law allows up to 30 percent for up to 15 years.

Though Commerce decided not to name the airline today, the Boise Weekly reported on Sunday that it is SkyWest. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Otter touts ed results, new tax incentive in address to business community

Gov. Butch Otter defended the state’s direction on education — and its funding commitment — in a speech to some 600 Treasure Valley business leaders today, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. The occasion was Otter’s annual address to the business community, and Otter didn’t directly address his re-election campaign – or his Democratic challenger, longtime Boise School Board Chairman A.J. Balukoff – in the speech. But he did touch on a point of contention in the race between the two, Richert reports.

Balukoff, in a fundraising email last week, took the state to task for its per-pupil spending, which perennially sits near the bottom of national rankings. The rankings, he said, are “downright shameful.” Otter told the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce luncheon today, “I still think we have to look at the results. It’s not how much money you spend, it’s how you spend the money.”

He said the 2014 Legislature took a “great leap forward” in restoring school funding after recession-era budget cuts, though the restoration isn’t complete; it was part of the first step in a five-year plan, he said. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Meanwhile, Idaho Statesman business reporter Zach Kyle, in his report on the speech, writes that Otter “stuck to familiar talking points,” including touting the new tax reimbursement incentive law that took effect July 1 and for which the Idaho Economic Advisory Council is considering its first applicant today, an airline that wants to build a big new maintenance facility in Boise. Kyle’s report is online here; the Boise Weekly reported on Sunday that the airline in question is SkyWest.

Thursday will see 59 Priest Lake cabin sites on auction block at CdA Resort

With a complex auction coming up Thursday for 59 state-owned lakefront cabin sites on Priest Lake, the state Department of Lands has released a fact sheet about how the whole thing will work; you can see it here. Among the highlights: The 59 lots – down from the 62 announced in July, as several have dropped out – have been divided randomly into four groups, with a quarter assigned to each, and groups have been scheduled for auction at 1 p.m., 3 p.m., 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. Each group is expected to take less than an hour.

Anyone who’s not the existing lessee and wants to bid on one of the lots must submit a $50,000 cashiers check ahead of time; if that person is the successful bidder, that $50,000 will be credited against the cost of the improvements on the property, for which the winning bidder must pay the existing lessee at appraised value. Existing lessees don’t have to put up the $50,000 because they already own the improvements.  There also are various fees that the winning bidder will have to pay.

The auction, which follows two earlier ones of state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake, comes as the state Land Board has decided to get the state out of the business of renting lake lots on which people build and own their cabins, leading to years of battles about the appropriate fair-market rent to charge for the ground under the cabins. It’s the first of what’s expected to be a series of auctions for Priest Lake lots. Proceeds from the auction will go to Idaho’s public school endowment fund. This initial group consists of lots whose lessees had attempted to join land exchanges that were cancelled; they voluntarily agreed to the auction instead.

The auction will be for the lots, not including the value of the buildings on them. Starting bids are set at the appraised value, which ranges from $200,000 to $665,000. Information on all the properties is online here; the terms and conditions of sale are online here. The auction starts Thursday at 1 p.m. Pacific time at the Coeur d’Alene Resort.

Idaho Meth Project names new director

The Idaho Meth Project has hired a new executive director, Adrean Cavener, the former director of government relations in Idaho for the American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. The Meth Project, which got just over a quarter-million in funding from Idaho’s Millenium Fund this year but otherwise operates on private donations and federal grant funds, works to prevent meth use, particularly among youth.

Cavener said while rates of meth use have been declining, large amounts of the drug still are coming into Idaho. “We still have about 500 pounds of meth being trafficked through Idaho every month, which is alarming, because 2 grams, about the size of a sugar packet, is 25 hits of meth to a new meth user,” she said.

The Meth Project, known for its graphic ad campaigns, has been focusing on reaching teens through social media including Pandora, Instagram and Facebook, and also has lots of billboards in the works, Cavener said. She replaces Gina Heideman, who was with the Meth Project for just over five years and who left a month ago.

First Lady Lori Otter, a booster of the Meth Project, said, “We know that meth use comes with enormous costs, both in the state budget, but more devastatingly to the living rooms of Idaho families. We look forward to the passion and knowledge Adrean will bring to the Idaho Meth Project.”

Dairy group urges farmers to deny media requests for tours, interviews in wake of ag-gag law

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho dairy industry group has sent a letter to all its members urging them to deny media requests for tours and on-farm interviews. The letter from the United Dairymen of Idaho was sent anonymously to the Associated Press late last week. In it, co-chairs Tom Dorsey and Tony Vanderhulst advise dairy producers that there's been an increase in requests from media groups seeking to film on-farm footage in the wake of an Idaho law that makes it illegal to secretly film animal abuse at agricultural facilities. The letter says that for the protection of the Idaho dairy industry, people seeking tours or interviews should be turned down or referred to United Dairymen officials or another industry group. Spokeswoman Cindy Miller confirmed the letter was sent to about 500 dairies.

Click below for a full report from AP reporter Rebecca Boone, and a statement from the dairy group.

ITD to suspend most road work over holiday weekend

The Idaho Transportation Department says it’ll suspend roadwork statewide that impacts travelers to ease the way for motorists over the upcoming Labor Day holiday weekend, with one exception: The Gowen Road interchange project just east of Boise. Work being done there will not impede traffic, ITD says. “Contractors have no interest in working over the holiday, just like most of us,” said ITD Chief Operations Officer Jim Carpenter. “Most would take these days off anyway, even if it was not required.”

The closure for the holiday will be from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1.

Scalia praises Idaho’s Snake River Basin water rights adjudication

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, speaking in Boise on Monday evening, praised Idaho's completion of a nearly 30-year process negotiating Snake River Basin water rights as a successful exercise in state rights and local control. “Adjudication serves a noble purpose,” he said. “It lets people of Idaho know just what they own. Everything from farming to fishing to mining and manufacturing requires water. Each of these will go smoothly now that they know what they own.”

The adjudication completion doesn't eliminate future disputes, but provides a guideline for what people might fight over in the future, Scalia said. Water law attorneys have processed more than 158,000 water rights claims. This has allowed thousands of farmers, dairies and fish processors to have a comprehensive record of state, federal and tribal water rights. Scalia was the keynote speaker at Monday's event in Boise marking the end of the largest ever adjudication review settling water ownership throughout nearly 85 percent of the Gem State; with the Snake River Basin Adjudication complete, Idaho has now begun adjudicating water rights in North Idaho.

Students to take new test aligned to core standards this school year

As students across the state head back to school, AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi offers an overview of the new standardized testing students will face this year aligned to Idaho Core standards adopted in 2011. Idaho school districts began teaching under the new standards last school year, and students took a field-test version of the new exam, called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC), but the results didn't count. The Idaho State Department of Education is now referring to the new test as the ISAT 2.0; in the spring of 2015, students will take the test and results will count. Click below for Kruesi's full report.

Andrus Center to host Conference on Women and Leadership

The Andrus Center for Public Policy at Boise State University will present a Conference on Women and Leadership Sept. 10-12 featuring an array of prominent speakers, from retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to four-star Admiral Michelle Howard, vice chair of operations for the U.S. Navy,  to Dr. Ellen Ochoa, director of the Johnson Space Center, to award-winning film producer Frieda Mock.  

The two and a half day conference at the BSU Student Union building is designed to motivate and educate women on leadership and success. Click below for more information.

Lawmakers to eye endowment land investments, public defense reforms

An interim committee of Idaho lawmakers tasked with determining if Idaho endowment lands are being managed properly to generate revenue is scheduled to meet for the first time Thursday, the Lewiston Tribune reports; click below for a full report from the Trib via the AP. “We'll focus on the structure of the state Land Board and the functioning of the Idaho Department of Lands, and look at the returns the endowment is getting on its various investments,” Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, co-chairman of the committee, told the Tribune. The entire endowment of land and investments is worth more than $3 billion, but it only generates about $50 million in annual payouts to public schools, universities and other trust beneficiaries, he said. “That's not a very good return,” he said. “So what should we be doing? A lot of endowment lands don't make any money. Should we hang onto them or try to sell them and find a better investment?”

The committee will meet Thursday from 8:15 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. in room EW 42 of the state Capitol; it will be live-streamed so people can watch online. Here's a link to the full agenda.

Also this week, the Legislature's Public Defense Reform Interim Committee will meet Tuesday from 8-3 in Room WW53; that meeting, too, will be streamed live online. The agenda is here.

Scalia to speak in Boise at SRBA conference

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia will be the keynote speaker Monday night at a conference marking the conclusion of the Snake River Basin Adjudication process. Scalia will speak at a sold-out 7 p.m. dinner at the Boise Centre on the Grove that also will include the formal signing of the SRBA decree; the banquet and 6 p.m. reception will close out a full-day conference sponsored by the Idaho Supreme Court, the University of Idaho College of Law and the Kempthorne Institute to mark the conclusion of the SRBA process. Nationally known water law experts will discuss the adjudication and related issues throughout the West.

The conference will continue Tuesday morning with a water policy panel hosted by former Idaho Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, who also is a former U.S. secretary of the interior and former U.S. senator. The 8 a.m. panel on Tuesday at the Centre on the Grove, moderated by Rocky Barker, will include panelists Chief Allan, chairman of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe; Michael Bogert, former counselor to the Secretary of the Interior; Mike Connor, current deputy Secretary of the Interior;  former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig; Rebecca Miles, former chair of the Nez Perce Tribe; Bob Iacullo, executive vice president of United Water; former Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski; and former Mexican ambassador to the United States Arturo Sarukhan. There’s more info here and here; the Idaho Statesman has a full report here.

New Idaho GOP chairman seeks to heal party

Here’s a link to my Sunday story on how new Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates says his party has work to do to recover from its big split midway through an election campaign. After the party’s state convention in June failed to elect leaders amid a bitter intra-party divide, former Chairman Barry Peterson sued, claiming he still was chairman. A judge said no, prompting the election of Yates Aug. 2.

Yates, a former aide to then-Vice President Dick Cheney who moved to Idaho Falls in 2011, said, “I have a reasonable amount of experience dealing with things that can be hashed out in the situation room in the West Wing, or in territorial disputes abroad. I have to believe that whatever our disagreements may be within the party, less is at stake … and that we ought to be able to work out our differences.”

Idaho’s Republican Party currently dominates elective offices in the state, holding every statewide office, all four seats in the congressional delegation and more than 80 percent of the state Legislature. But the party’s disarray has created a potential opening for minority Democrats and third party candidates, who are campaigning hard this year in races including the one for governor.

Also from Sunday’s Spokesman-Review, here’s a link to my Sunday column on the politics surrounding the stalled wildfire disaster funding act in Congress and new demographic projections about Idaho’s school students.

AdWatch: Balukoff launches second TV campaign commercial

The newest TV ad to surface in Idaho’s gubernatorial campaign this year is a second one from Democrat A.J. Balukoff, themed around the historic Oregon Trail wagon runs south of Boise. “It’s another good introduction piece, but it doesn’t seem to be much different from the first one,” said Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus of public policy at Boise State University. “He needs to get his name out there and continue to introduce himself, but I think we need to pretty soon hear some more from him in terms of what a Balukoff Administration would look like and how different it might be from an Otter Administration.”

The only promise Balukoff makes in the ad is a general one, to “make quality schools and good jobs a priority.” Otter has been preparing a campaign commercial, though it’s not yet aired. You can see the ad and read my full AdWatch story here at spokesman.com.

Two divergent views on Idaho education…

The two major-party candidates for governor are offering “two divergent views on education” this week, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News, with GOP Gov. Butch Otter sending a guest opinion to Idaho newspapers saying Idaho is on a continuing “journey to education excellence,” and Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff sending out a fundraising  email calling Idaho’s bottom-ranked per-pupil spending “downright shameful.” Both candidates used a back-to-school theme.

Otter writes, “As Idaho students head back to school, I’m reminded of how far we’ve come toward improving education in Idaho – and how far we still need to go. It’s been an interesting and instructive journey, and one that reinforces my belief that how we get where we’re going is just as important as the destination. Almost two years ago I called on education stakeholders to join policymakers in charting a bold new course for Idaho's schools. In response, the State Board of Education assembled a diverse group of working educators, business leaders, legislators and other experts. The product of their work was a slate of 20 visionary recommendations that now serve as our path forward on improving education.” He says as part of that, he’s “committed to replenish classroom dollars” after budget cuts.

Balukoff writes, “Kids all over Idaho are returning to school. Some of them will get five-day school weeks, others will get just four. Some will have pay-to-pay athletics, some will have music and art while others won’t, and many classrooms will be overcrowded. The Idaho Constitution requires a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools. Education in Idaho is anything but uniform. The only way to change that is by voting out the top decision-makers. Not only is our dead last standing in the country for investment in education unacceptable, it’s downright shameful.”

You can Richert’s full report here.

 

First applicant for new Idaho tax incentive is airline planning new maintenance facility

An airline is looking into coming to Idaho to set up a maintenance facility in Boise that would create 100 new jobs with salaries of close to $50,000 a year, Idaho’s state commerce chief says, in part because of a new tax incentive law. The firm, which will be named on Tuesday when the state’s Economic Advisory Council considers its application, is the first to apply for the state’s new economic reimbursement incentive – a new tax break that will refund up to 30 percent of a firm’s state corporate income, sales and payroll taxes for up to 15 years if they create specified numbers of new Idaho jobs.

“I think people will be pleased when they hear the name of the company,” said Idaho Commerce Director Jeff Sayer. “We’ll be announcing whether or not the proposal is approved. And then there may be a subsequent announcement later, we’re hoping, in this particular case, where the company will be announcing they’ve actually chosen Idaho.”

The new tax incentive law just took effect July 1. It offers the tax breaks to firms that create at least 20 new jobs in rural areas or at least 50 in urban areas, if the jobs pay at least the county average wage. It’s available both to existing Idaho businesses and to out-of-state firms; Sayer said the first applicant is coming from out of state. “We’re among the final states that they’re looking at, and they’ve asked us to fast-track this particular process so that they can make their decision and get going,” he said. “If they choose Boise, it’ll be a huge win for our aerospace industry sector and the airport and Boise all at the same time, so we’re hopeful.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Non-Republican sought for vacancy on state Tax Commission

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter is looking for someone who's not a Republican to serve on the state Tax Commission. The commission has a vacancy due to the departure of Commissioner David Langhorst to become the new chief of the state Department of Parks & Recreation. By law, no more than two of the four commissioners can be of the same party; current commission Chairman Rich Jackson and Commissioner Ken Roberts both are Republicans, while Commissioner Tom Katsilometes is a former Democratic county commissioner. 

Otter is accepting applications until Sept. 10 to serve out Langhorst's term, which ends in March, with the possibility of reappointment. Langhorst is a former Democratic state senator. “I have placed a lot of focus in my administration on increased transparency, accountability, collaboration and customer service at the Idaho State Tax Commission,” Otter said. “David did a great job, and I have high expectations for a worthy replacement to join the Commission and serve Idaho taxpayers.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.

 

GAO concludes Bergdahl swap broke law

The Pentagon broke the law when it swapped Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, a prisoner in Afghanistan for five years, for five Taliban leaders, according to a GAO report submitted to Congress today, the AP reports. The nonpartisan Government Accountability Office said the Defense Department failed to notify the relevant congressional committees at least 30 days in advance of the exchange — a clear violation of the law — and used $988,400 of a wartime account to make the transfer. The GAO said the Pentagon's use of funds that hadn't been expressly appropriated violated the Anti-deficiency Act; click below for the full report from AP reporter Donna Cassata in Washington, D.C.

Energy secretary touts nuclear power, warns of global warming

U.S. Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, speaking at an Intermountain Energy Summit in Idaho Falls today, championed the use of nuclear power and urged politicians and leaders in the energy industry to adapt and modernize energy production to help minimize the fallout from global warming, the Associated Press reports. Other speakers at the conference included Idaho Sens. Mike Crapo and Jim Risch and Idaho Rep. Mike Simpson. “The predictions of a world where we do nothing predict unhealthy outcomes for our forests,” Moniz said. “Working hard on it means innovating energy technology.” Click below for a full report from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

Firefighting costs continue to eat into Forest Service management budget, while disaster funding bill languishes…

A new report out today from the U.S. Department of Agriculture shows that costs allocated to fighting wildfires have grown from 16 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s overall budget in 1995 to 42 percent today. “This has led to substantial cuts in other areas of the Forest Service budget, including efforts to keep forests healthy, reduce fire risk, and strengthen local economies,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement today as he released the report.

Those percentage figures don’t include so-called “fire borrowing,” he noted, in which the Forest Service borrows from other areas of its budget once it’s used up its allocated amount for firefighting but blazes are still going. Vilsack renewed his request to Congress to allow an existing disaster funds to cover firefighting costs in years when they exceed allocated amounts.

A year ago, Idaho GOP Sen. Mike Crapo and Oregon Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden, along with Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, gathered at the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise to kick off a push to end the borrowing and instead tap disaster funds when firefighting costs balloon over allocated amounts. Their bipartisan legislation had been picking up support in both houses – Idaho GOP Rep. Mike Simpson is among the House sponsors, along with Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Oregon – but paradoxically suffered a setback earlier this year after President Barack Obama not only endorsed it but included it in his budget.

“That spurred some folks to be cautious about it,” said Lindsay Nothern, Crapo’s press secretary. “Honestly, it’s been kind of bottled up. It’s been affected by politics.” The House version of the bill has 131 co-sponsors, including Idaho 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador. The Senate version has 18 co-sponsors including Risch.

In the House, “Some folks are concerned about changing the spending matrix, primarily Paul Ryan, head of the budget committee,” Nothern said. “We did go out and get a CBO report that showed it is budget neutral, because we already spend disaster money on disasters such as this.”

He added, “There is support for it among leadership in both the Senate and the House, on both sides of the aisle.” But on its first attempt at passage, Nothern said, the proposal got lumped in with other issues including the president’s border proposal, and it didn’t pass. “We are hoping for a stand-alone bill, and then the only opposition we have is Ryan.” He said backers of the measure are hoping they can persuade Ryan to drop his opposition by showing it won’t spend new money.

Vilsack strongly agreed. “Bipartisan proposals to fund catastrophic fire like other natural disasters could help ensure that efforts to make forests more healthy and resilient and support local tourism economies aren’t impacted as significantly as they have been in recent years,” the secretary said. “These proposals don’t increase the deficit, they just budget smarter by allowing existing natural disaster funding to be used in cases of catastrophic wildfires.”

Nothern said there’s a slim chance the bill could be brought up in the September session, but it’s more likely that it won’t get considered until the “lame-duck” session that follows the November election. He’s confident, though, that it will pass. “It’s a question of when,” Nothern said. “We’re out of money again this year. It shows the need to do this.”

The new USDA report shows that staffing for managing national Forest Service lands has dropped by 35 percent since 1998, while fire staffing has increased 110 percent. Even before fire borrowing is taken into account, funding to support recreation has dropped 13 percent; funding for wildlife and fisheries habitat management is down 17 percent; and research funding is down by more than $36 million. Funding for maintenance and capital improvements has been cut by two-thirds since 2001, showing the impact of the shift of resources to wildfire suppression. The full report is online here.

CdA Charter Academy posts state’s top SAT scores

Idaho students’ scores on the SAT are out, and Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert reports that the top scores in the state came at Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, which had an average score among its juniors taking the test of 1,818. The statewide average was 1,363, a mark matched exactly by the average at Lake City High School in Coeur d'Alene, which Richert dubbed the “most average” in the state on the scores. Lowest was Murtaugh High School, at 1,000, but Richert notes it had a small sample – only 13 students there took the test.

Other schools making the top 10 for their students’ scores: Compass Charter School, Renaissance High School, Victory Charter School, Xavier Charter School, Idaho Distance Education Academy, Moscow Senior High School, Boise High School, Meridian Technical Charter High School, and Kootenai Junior-Senior High School. Richert’s full report is online here.

9th Circuit rejects Otter’s bid for initial en banc review in gay marriage case

The 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has rejected, without comment, Gov. Butch Otter’s request for Idaho’s same-sex marriage case to go directly to a full 11-judge panel of the court, rather than the usual three-judge panel. Otter made the request in July, saying a full-court review by the appellate court rather than a smaller panel would enhance the “perception of the legitimacy of this court’s resolution.” It’s highly unusual for such a request to be granted.

Today, the 9th Circuit issued a 10-word order, saying only, “Appellant Otter’s petition for initial hearing en banc is denied.”

U.S. Magistrate Judge Candy Dale overturned the Idaho Constitution’s ban on same-sex marriage in May, saying it violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantees of equal protection and due process. The state is now appealing her ruling to the 9th Circuit; the appeals court has set arguments for Sept. 8.

Yates names new Idaho GOP exec director, David Johnston

David Johnston has been named the new executive director of the Idaho Republican Party, Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates announced today. Johnston most recently worked as an energy specialist for the governor’s Office of Energy Resources; he’s worked on campaigns and for the Legislature, has a degree in political science from BSU, and served four years on active duty in the Marine Corps. Johnson grew up in Lava Hot Springs.

“I am thrilled to have someone of David’s caliber fill this critical role,” Yates said in a statement. “He has a record of hard work, service, and attention to detail that will be a major asset to the party and all of its members.”

Report: Future Idaho school students to be poorer, more urban, more diverse

A new study commissioned by the Idaho Charter School Network and funded by a grant from the Albertson Foundation projects that Idaho’s school student population will see significant demographic changes in the next five years, becoming increasingly urban, more racially diverse and poorer. “These trends will present challenges for many districts,” the study finds. “Many rural districts will continue to lose students while more urban districts will struggle to meet growing enrollments.”

The study is aimed in part at identifying where the best opportunities are for charter schools in the state, but Terry Ryan, president of the Idaho Charter School Network, said the data also has implications for education in the state more broadly. “Idaho is changing, and how it does schooling needs to adapt if the state’s schools are to adjust to the changing needs of its children and families,” he said.

Idaho’s Hispanic student population is projected to be its fastest-growing portion, while the non-Hispanic white student population is projected to decline. Meanwhile, “Idaho is expected to see net growth in lower income households and net declines in households with incomes above $50,000,” the report says. It also documents the increasing reliance of school districts on voter-approved local tax override levies – an option that’s not available to charter schools. Overall, the report concludes that the current state school funding system is “not well aligned with the coming demands of an increasingly urban, more diverse and poorer student population. The report, entitled “Shifting Sands,” is online here.

Luna’s new job to start Jan. 1

Idaho state schools chief Tom Luna will start his new job as a vice president with Project Lead the Way, a national education non-profit, on Jan. 1, 2015, according to the project’s spokeswoman, Jennifer Cahill. The non-profit, which provides STEM curriculum and training to schools nationwide, is based in Indianapolis, but Cahill said it has more than 50 “remote team members” who work from home in their home states; that’s what Luna will do as well. Luna will oversee four regional directors who will live and work in their regions, and all will travel as needed to Indianapolis.

Luna’s position – and the team he’ll head – is a new one for the firm, Cahill said; it won’t involve any direct lobbying. Instead, it’ll be focused on policy, advocacy and research, aimed at identifying growth opportunities and barriers to growth for the group’s programs. The new team, she said, will develop “general policy concepts and advance those through informational pieces.”

While Project Lead the Way began as a foundation-funded nonprofit, it no longer receives foundation funding, Cahill said, instead operating on the fees that schools pay to participate in the programs, which vary from $750 to $3,000 a year. In addition, it has numerous corporate partners, who give grants directly to the schools to help with the cost of the program; they include Chevron, Lockheed-Martin, Cargill, Toyota, General Motors, Dow Chemical, Amgen and more.

Luna will join national STEM nonprofit as VP after his term as state schools chief is up

Idaho state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna has accepted a new job with a national education non-profit focused on science and technology courses and teacher training, starting in early 2015. Luna will be vice president of policy, advocacy and research for Project Lead the Way, a provider of STEM programs and teacher training; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“My focus and priority today continues to be the children of Idaho,” Luna said in a statement. “There are several major initiatives that need continued attention such as teacher quality and pay through a new tiered system of licensure and a well-funded career ladder, technology implementation to increase access throughout Idaho, dual credit opportunities for all high school students and ensuring students are reading proficiently by the time they exit third grade. These are my highest priorities as I finish my second-term as state superintendent of public instruction.”

Luna will be based in Idaho in his new job, according to his office. “It was really important to Superintendent Luna that he gets to stay in Idaho,” said spokesman Brady Moore. Luna will be “creating his own team” for Project Lead the Way, Moore said.

In his new job, Luna will oversee a team focused on federal, state, and local policies, as well as research initiatives that support STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) growth across the United States. He’ll oversee four regional directors and a team of policy analysts and researchers.

According to its website, Project Lead the Way is the leading provider of K-12 STEM programs to schools in the United States, serving more than 5,000 elementary, middle and high schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It started in 1986 in upstate New York when high school teacher Richard Blais began offering pre-engineering and digital electronics classes to his students; he received support from the Liebich family’s Charitable Leadership Foundation in 1997 to expand the high school engineering program to 12 schools in upstate New York, and it grew from there.

Asked if the organization currently does business with the state Department of Education, Moore said, “Currently Project Lead the Way does not contract with Idaho at the state department level. They may do some work with schools independently, but on a statewide level, we haven’t worked with them at all, and we will continue to not work with them.”

Idaho Education News has a full report here, including these details: Project Lead the Way curriculum is currently offered in Boise, Nampa, Meridian, Kuna, Caldwell and Fremont school districts; and Idaho’s Division of Professional-Technical Education website encourages teachers to offer the nonprofit’s programs. Annual fees range from $750-$3,000 per school; the organization also has corporate sponsors.

New GOP Chair Yates: ‘We ought to be able to work out our differences’

New Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates has been starting from scratch at the Idaho GOP office, where the last remaining employee when he took over – recently hired party Executive Director Judy Gowen, who was brought in by former Chairman Barry Peterson – left shortly after the Aug. 2 meeting at which Yates was elected chairman.

“She seemed to be a very qualified and good person,” Yates said of Gowen, former political director for Sen. Russ Fulcher’s unsuccessful primary challenge to GOP Gov. Butch Otter. “I had a conversation with her very soon after the Aug. 2 meeting, and she let me know that she preferred to go back to school. She did not seek to be a candidate for executive director going forward.” Yates said he’s made a selection for a new executive director and is just awaiting executive committee approval. “We’re also now anxiously working through a process to identify a finance chairman that can help field a team that works on trying to breathe some oxygen into the effort that we have for the November (election) cycle,” he said.

After the party’s state convention failed to elect leaders over the summer amid a bitter intra-party divide, Peterson sued, claiming he still was chairman. A judge said no, prompting the election of Yates Aug. 2. “I have a reasonable amount of experience dealing with things that can be hashed out in the situation room in the West Wing, or in territorial disputes abroad,” said Yates, a former aide to Vice President Dick Cheney who moved to Idaho Falls in 2011. “I have to believe that whatever our disagreements may be within the party, less is at stake … and that we ought to be able to work out our differences.”

He said, “First priority is to build up a capacity and execute a plan that supports all our nominees through the November cycle with the things the party usually does – absentee ballots, get-out-the-vote efforts, field offices and things they can do to help all the candidates. We’re beginning the efforts to liaise with all the campaigns.” Yates said after the party gets through the November election, “We’ve got longer-term issues to deal with by way of rules and processes that led to where we ended up this year.” He said he’s heard from lots of Republicans who felt that party rules weren’t fairly applied; new rules and processes can address that before 2016, he said. But for now, “In the closing months of the election cycle, people need to be focused on the work.”

Later, he said, “perhaps they’ll have … time to decide how much they like the person standing next to them.”

“We’ve certainly got our work cut out for us,” he said, “in the sense that we’re amping up as a state party midway through an election.” I spoke with Yates yesterday; the Idaho Statesman also published a profile of Yates in today’s paper by reporter Sven Berg. It’s online here.

Three Treasure Valley businesses agree to cease Idaho operations in consumer protection case

Owners of three businesses that duped Idahoans on everything from satellite TV systems to vendor spaces at events to fake college credits have agreed to cease all operations in Idaho, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden announced today, under agreements with the attorney general's Consumer Protection Division. The three are Geo Marketing, LLC, of Boise; Kasey Thompson, of Boise, and Philip Braun, owner of the bankrupt Caldwell-based Canyon College of Idaho, Inc. Click below for Wasden's full announcement.

Labrador on this summer’s GOP convention: ‘At least I tried to fix the problem’

Looking back on this summer’s tumultuous Idaho Republican Party convention, which he chaired, 1st District GOP Congressman Raul Labrador says he’s not sorry he stepped in, even though the confab ended in chaos, without any votes on leaders, resolutions or the party platform as two wings of the party fiercely opposed each other. “I think what I keep reminding people is that at least I tried to fix the problem that we had,” Labrador said. “One of my favorite quotes is from Teddy Roosevelt about the man in the arena. I think sometimes politicians are afraid of getting right in the middle of something because they’re so worried about what happens to them politically. I actually wanted to solve the divide that existed in the party.”

Labrador noted that he spent five hours the night before the convention reached its climax trying to bring both sides to a compromise. “It was rejected, and I still don’t understand why it was rejected, but there’s nothing I could do about that,” he said. “The easy thing for me would have been to say, ‘Hey, I’m running for majority leader of the House, I should walk away from this so I don’t have anything fall on me.’ I think that would be the chicken way out, and I don’t do that.”

Now that the party, after a failed lawsuit from the former party chairman, has chosen a new chairman in newcomer Steve Yates, Labrador said, “I’m very impressed with him. Maybe he’s exactly what we needed – somebody who wasn’t really part of either camp so he can try to unify. I know that’s been his message, and I’m wholly supportive of him. And I want to help him in any way I can. But I would’ve been supportive of anybody who came out of that process.”

Here’s the quote Labrador referenced, from a speech Roosevelt gave at the Sorbonne in Paris in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” 

Labrador on Popkey: ‘He knows what’s happened here in Idaho, what has been tried, what hasn’t’

Idaho 1st District Congressman Raul Labrador, asked today why he decided to recruit and hire longtime Idaho Statesman political reporter Dan Popkey to be his new press secretary, said, “The main reason is I wanted to have a better relationship with the Idaho media. I think I’ve always had a pretty good relationship, but it seemed like we could always improve. And I just, when I thought about who would be the best person to actually have a relationship with the Idaho media, somebody like Dan Popkey came to mind.” He added, “I think he was pretty shocked. And then he thought about it, and he thought it wasn’t a bad idea.”

Said Labrador, “I thought it was a pretty good move. … I respect the knowledge – he’s almost like an encyclopedia, and I’ve always respected that about him. He knows what’s happened here in Idaho, what has been tried and what hasn’t been tried.”

Popkey wasn’t with the congressman when I spoke with him today, incidentally, as he’s on vacation. Asked how that could be when he just started his new job two weeks ago, Labrador said it was a long-planned family commitment that was taken into account when he hired Popkey. “It’s how I would treat any employee,” he said.

Crapo says he’ll seek another term

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo says he will seek re-election in 2016. In making the announcement Friday in Lewiston, the 63-year-old Republican says he's committed to resolving a number of critical issues to the country. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/XqzcMO ) that Crapo was elected to the Senate in 1998 to succeed Sen. Dirk Kempthorne. He is serving the fourth year of his third term and is ranked 39th in seniority in the Senate. A member of the minority party in the Senate, Crapo is the ranking member of the Senate's Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee, and serves on the Budget and Environment, Public Works, Indian Affairs and Finance committees. There had been speculation by some political observers that Crapo would retire from the Senate after his current term.

Colorful former Idaho Congressman George Hansen dies at 83

Colorful former Idaho Congressman George Hansen, who served seven terms in the U.S. House, ran unsuccessfully for the Senate three times, and also served time in federal prison, died Thursday in a Pocatello hospital at the age of 83. Idaho Statesman reporter Rocky Barker has a full report here. Hansen is survived by five children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

NIFC warns folks to keep unauthorized drones away from wildfires

The National Interagency Fire Center says folks flying unauthorized drones near wildfires are getting in firefighters’ way, and they’re asking the drone operators to cut it out. Unauthorized drones “could cause serious injury or death to firefighters on the ground,” NIFC warns today. “They could also have midair collisions with airtankers, helicopters, and other aircraft engaged in wildfire suppression missions.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

There have been at least three instances this year of unauthorized drone flights near a wildfire zone in violation of temporary flight restrictions, which typically are imposed around wildfires and require permission from fire managers to enter the airspace. Some apparently were taking video or collecting data on the fires. But Aitor Bidaburu, chair of the National Multi-Agency Coordinating Group at NIFC, said people shouldn’t fly drones near wildfires whether or not formal flight restrictions have been declared in effect. The presence of an unauthorized drone could prompt fire managers to suspend aerial suppression efforts until they’re sure it’s gone, disrupting firefighting, he said.

Anyone determined to have interfered with wildfire suppression efforts could be subject to civil penalties and potentially criminal prosecution.

State Board backs new tiered licensing system for teachers, opens it for public comments

Idaho’s state Board of Education has voted unanimously to give preliminary approval to a new tiered certification system for teachers, opening the way for a public comment period and public hearing before final consideration of the rule in November. The new way of approaching teacher certification and licensing was developed as part of the governor’s education task force’s 20 recommendations for improving education in the state; the new licensing system would be tied to a new teacher pay system that would sharply increase Idaho teacher pay.

“This is a sea change in how we handle the certification of Idaho teachers,” said state Board President Emma Atchley.

However, the Idaho Education Association has opposed a key aspect of the new rule, Idaho Education News reports, arguing that a teacher’s license or certificate should not be dependent on educator evaluations performed at the local level. EdNews reporter Clark Corbin reports that IEA members have opposed the evaluations rule in committee meetings, but no one spoke against it as the state board considered it on Thursday.

Corbin reports that the new system essentially calls for two tiers of teacher certification. The first is a three-year, non-renewable residency certificate for teachers just starting out in the profession. The second is a professional certificate for teachers who have more than three years of experience and meet eligibility, student growth and performance standards. Within the professional tier, there are standard and master professional certificates. There’s also a contingent professional certificate for teachers who don’t meet all renewal requirements, and an interim certificate for teachers moving to Idaho from elsewhere. You can read Corbin’s full report here, and see the full state board rule here.

Wolf derby group seeks 5-year special permit

Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: KETCHUM, Idaho (AP) — Organizers of a disputed predator derby aimed at killing wolves in central Idaho are asking for a five-year permit to hold the contest. The Idaho Mountain Express reports (http://bit.ly/1nW7xbv) in a story on Thursday that the group called Idaho for Wildlife applied with the Bureau of Land Management for a special recreation permit. The hunt went ahead last year after a U.S. District Court ruled against an environmental group that filed a lawsuit to stop the event. Organizers say that last year more than 230 participants killed 21 coyotes but no wolves near Salmon. Organizers have said they're seeking to publicize wolves' impact on local elk herds and potential disease risks. The BLM is examining the application as part of a process that will include a public comment period.

Balukoff asks IACI board to take down ‘appalling’ attack website

A.J. Balukoff, Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has sent a letter to the board of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, the business lobbying group whose PAC has launched an attack campaign against him including a website dubbed “LiberalAJ.com,” asking the business leaders to take down the website. Balukoff wrote, “This website is filled with lies and gross misrepresentations in a transparent attempt to mislead voters. It demonstrates an appalling lack of integrity.” He cited the Rotary Club’s “four-way test,” saying he uses it as an “ethical guide.” The test asks: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

Mike Reynoldson, IACI board member, immediate past chairman of the board and director of government affairs for Micron Technology, said he stands by the “LiberalAJ” website. Asked his reaction to Balukoff’s letter, Reynoldson said, “First-time candidate who maybe isn’t all that used to the political process. Obviously he’s upset that the website points out his positions, and so he’s trying to detract from that by making this request.”

Reynoldson said many of the “LiberalAJ” site’s claims point back to information Balukoff had posted on his own campaign website. For example, under the heading “Embracing Obamacare,” the site states, “A.J. supports Obamacare and its disastrous policies saying, ‘rather than calling for its repeal, I would prefer to work with it.’ Idahoans know that a federal government ‘solution’ isn’t what we need. We can’t afford a governor who embraces Obama and his failed healthcare policies. SOURCE: AJforIdaho.com/faq.” Next to the item is a picture of Balukoff with a picture of Obama super-imposed next to him.

Balukoff’s list of 23 “frequently asked questions” on his website includes, “What do you think about the Affordable Care Act?” His response, in part, says, “The Affordable Care Act is far from perfect, and it is not what I would have recommended. But rather than calling for its repeal, I would prefer to work with it and try to amend the parts of the law that are problematic. The problems in the law could be resolved through cooperation and compromise. Small businesses with few employees have a difficult time providing affordable health insurance for their employees, especially when one or two employees have a history of medical problems. The insurance premiums are high because the risk pool is small. This problem is fixed by the employees joining a larger risk pool, which is exactly what the state’s existing health insurance exchange provides—the opportunity to join a larger risk pool in an Idaho-run health insurance exchange rather than the federal exchange.”

Both IACI and GOP Gov. Butch Otter, whom Balukoff is challenging, supported the state-run insurance exchange, which Otter championed. But Reynoldson said, “His position and IACI’s position are different.”

You can see Balukoff’s website here, and IACI’s attack site here, which is headed, “A.J. Balukoff, YOU’RE A LIBERAL.”

Medicaid redesign group backs accepting federal funds for contracted health plans, on 10-3 vote

Gov. Butch Otter’s Medicaid Redesign Work Group met all day today, and at the end, voted 10-3 in favor of accepting federal Medicaid expansion money to cover low-income uninsured Idahoans with contracted health plans focused on primary care and prevention; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com. Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, who cast one of the three “no” votes along with Reps. Mike Moyle, R-Star, and Tom Loertscher, R-Iona, said while he opposed the motion, he liked that the group included plans for a pilot program in using existing catastrophic care fund money to provide direct primary care to patients.

Thayn said for him, there are still unanswered questions, including how much federal authorities will let Idaho vary from regular Medicaid rules in its plan.  “That’s probably the biggest piece: How’s it going to be different than regular Medicaid?” he asked. “Because we don’t necessarily want, and I think the task force agreed with this, to expand the current Medicaid plan just the way it is.”

The group heard a full day of presentations, including consultants’ analyses, and presentations on “special gap populations” that are now missing out on coverage, including veterans, the disabled, people with mental illness and many with indigency claims. “There’s no question that something needs to be done,” Thayn said. “Do we need federal money to do it? Could we incorporate that into some other ideas? Those are all debate points, I guess.”

States had the option of accepting millions in federal funds to cover those who make too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to qualify for health insurance subsidies through insurance exchanges. Idaho has repeatedly delayed its decision, while Washington accepted the money and expanded coverage. An earlier state task force that Otter convened voted overwhelmingly in favor of expansion, but the governor proposed no legislation on that last year.

Among the other options the working group considered today were sticking  with the status quo; accepting the federal money but using it to buy private insurance along the lines of what Arkansas has done; and providing direct primary care services to patients with the existing catastrophic fund, which is 100 percent funded by the state and local property taxes. There's more info here about today's meeting.

Thayn said, “Can we craft it in such a way that it can win conservative legislators’ support? … I’m going to work on that a little bit and come up with some ideas. I don’t know if it’ll be accomplished or not.”

Corey Surber of St. Alphonsus, who facilitated the working group, said its recommendation will be written up in a report and presented to Otter. The option the group voted for would cover more than 100,000 Idahoans who now lack health insurance, and would save state and local taxpayers an estimated $43.9 million in fiscal year 2016 if lawmakers approved it in their 2015 session.

State tax revenues slightly below mark for July

Idaho state tax revenues in July came in slightly below the state’s newly revised forecasts, but 3.8 percent above July of the previous year. Revenues were 1.4 percent below the revised forecast of $244.3 million for the month. The forecast for fiscal year 2015, which began July 1, was revised downward $17 million by the state Division of Financial Management from the January forecast because of changing economic conditions suggesting lower anticipated sales tax growth in the coming year, now forecast at 5.9 percent, down from the previous 7.7 percent. You can see the state Division of Financial Management’s full monthly General Fund Revenue Report here.

Idaho declares Type 1 diabetes awareness day, at urging of 11-year-old with the disease

Thanks to the persistence of 11-year-old Carson Magee of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho has now officially proclaimed the second Monday of February as “Type 1 Diabetes Awareness Day,” and Carson’s helping plan an awareness event at the state Capitol that day. Carson was diagnosed with the disease at age 7, and as a result, he said he has to test his blood glucose and take shots six to eight times  a day. “I just want people to know the symptoms … and join our efforts for a cure,” Carson said at a ceremony today in the governor’s office, where First Lady Lori Otter formally signed the proclamation.

Lori Otter told the young man, “I commend you – not everybody is willing to step up and be part of the solution, and you are.” Type 1 Diabetes has no cure, and unlike Type 2 diabetes, is unrelated to diet or lifestyle; it formerly was called juvenile diabetes. According to JDRF, formerly known as the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas, rendering millions of Americans dependent on insulin injections and 24/7 vigilance to survive. 

Carson was a delegate to a national JDRF children’s congress on diabetes in Washington, D.C., and met another youngster who had persuaded Oklahoma to pass a similar proclamation. He decided to work toward one in Idaho, and noticed that Gov. Butch Otter and First Lady Lori Otter were going to be in his hometown for the Ironman Triathlon. That day, Carson rode his unicycle across the park to see the governor – he’s an accomplished unicyclist – and the governor and first lady and their staffers listened to Carson’s proposal with interest. “They took him very seriously,” said Carson’s mom, Fondra Magee. “They kind of surrounded him and got all the information about what he wanted to do.”

The Feb. 9 event in the state Capitol rotunda will include endocrinologists and families with members who have Type 1 diabetes who can answer questions people have about the disease and its symptoms. “I really think it will raise a lot of awareness,” Carson said.

Universities name programs they could cut to save money, re-prioritize

Idaho State University would eliminate its bachelor’s degrees in German and French. Boise State would do away with its Department of Bilingual Education, and could eliminate its College of Social Sciences and Public Affairs in a restructuring. The University of Idaho would do away with bachelor’s degrees in musical theater, American studies and medical technology. All are among proposals presented to the State Board of Education yesterday as part of a year-long required look at university programs aimed at cost-cutting, reports Boise State Public Radio’s Adam Cotterell; the schools looked at every program offered and judged each based on things like return on investment and demand. The state board required all the state’s four-year colleges and universities to examine and prioritize their programs; layoffs could result. Cotterell’s full report is online here.

Idaho readies for boost to endowment from cabin site auctions…

Idaho’s state endowment is expecting to make at least $30 million later this month from an auction of state-owned cabin sites on Priest Lake - an estimate state officials call “conservative” - and another $13 million from another auction at Payette Lake in December. Currently, proceeds from sales of state endowment land go into a Land Bank Fund for up to five years, where they can be used for other land acquisitions; after that time, they transfer to the permanent endowment.

A subcommittee of the Land Board looking at the issue reported today that the Land Bank currently has a $12.5 million balance, and while the Department of Lands is looking at possible purchases of timber land and road right-of-way, none of those purchases are likely to occur within the next four months. Funds in the Land Bank are invested by the state treasurer as part of the state’s idle pool, where they earn about 0.4 percent interest annually. But the permanent endowment fund last year made 18 percent in investment earnings.

“We certainly know that there will be some money coming into the Land Bank in amounts that really should be sent into the permanent funds,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, who chairs the subcommittee. So the Land Board voted unanimously today to transfer the current $12.5 million balance from the Land Bank Fund to the permanent endowment. The board also voted to consider consultants’ analyses at its December meeting on how to handle future balances in the Land Bank fund and when to make transfers, including possibly limiting the land bank fund to $10 million, with all proceeds above that going directly to the permanent endowment fund.

State facing ‘very difficult, very expensive fire season so far’

Firefighting costs for the Idaho Department of Lands are up significantly this year, the state Land Board was told this morning, coming to $24.4 million to date. An estimated $2.1 million of those costs will be reimbursed to the state Lands Department from other agencies, for a net cost of about $22.34 million. That’s far above the 20-year average of about $7.5 million. The reason: Though this hasn’t been the worst fire season statewide, more than a quarter of the fires have been on land for which the state has fire-protection responsibility. “As a percentage of the 200,000 acres being suppressed this year, we’re more than 25 percent of those,” said Tom Schultz, state lands director.

Two years ago, wildfires in the state were far more extensive, but burned largely on federally protected land.

“It has been a very active fire season for the Department of Lands on our protection districts,” state forester David Groeschl told the board. “We’ve had a lot of fire activity.” Four fires required Type 2 management teams in the past two weeks, he said; all are now contained. “Mop-up is occurring on those,” Groeschl said. The largest, the Big Cougar Fire, has burned 65,000 acres. The state’s costs include $1.8 million for fixed aircraft costs for the season.

“As of right now, August is predicted to be warmer than normal with normal precipitation, which isn’t much for August,” Groeschl said. “Given those predictions, we expect still a very active fire season right now. We’ve got some recent precipitation which is good, helps slow things down right now, but we’ll see what happens throughout the rest of August and early September.”

Schultz said this year’s state firefighting price tag could end up four times the 20-year average, saying it’s been a “very difficult, very expensive fire season so far for us.”

Balukoff says IACI ‘slander campaign’ shows Otter dodging record

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic challenger to Idaho GOP Gov. Butch Otter, in response to yesterday’s announcement from the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry that it’s launching an independent campaign against him, said it shows that Otter “is determined to run away from his poor record on education and jobs in Idaho.” Said Balukoff, “He has decided to go negative. That’s disappointing, because we feel the voters should hear directly from the candidates about their views and records.”

He also slammed IACI – the business lobbying group that’s the former employer of Otter’s campaign manager, Jayson Ronk – for launching a “slander campaign,” noting that the group’s new anti-Balukoff website is critical of positions he’s taken that match those of IACI, including support for Medicaid expansion and the state health insurance exchange. You can read Balukoff’s full statement here.

Click below for a full report on the IACI effort from AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi.

New UI law scholarship endowed in honor of Wasden for anti-tobacco work

The American Legacy Foundation, a national anti-smoking group founded as part of a nationwide tobacco settlement, has donated $350,000 to the University of Idaho to establish a scholarship program at the College of Law in honor of Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. The new Lawrence G. Wasden Scholars Program will benefit law students interested in legal and policy dimensions of public health issues related to tobacco and substance abuse; the first scholarship will be awarded in the fall of 2015.

Wasden, who is Idaho’s longest-serving attorney general, has served on the board of the foundation and has been active with the National Association of Attorneys General in its work on the tobacco settlement, including chairing its tobacco committee. Robin Koval, CEO and president of the foundation, said, “We’re proud that this program will carry on General Wasden’s tireless anti-tobacco work and create a legacy of longer, healthier lives as a result.”

Mark Adams, dean and professor at the UI College of Law, called Wasden’s work on the national tobacco settlement issue “incredible,” and said the college is “honored” to recognize Wasden, a UI law grad. “Generations of law students and the communities they serve will benefit from the educational opportunities available as a result of this new program,” Adams said. He said the Wasden Scholars Program will be the “cornerstone” of the law school's educational offerings in public health.

South Fork flows to jump next week, for post-fire fish habitat restoration

Flows in the South Fork of the Boise River will jump next week as part of a project to recover fish habitat in areas impacted by heavy sedimentation after last year's Elk and Pony Complex fires. Idaho Fish & Game reports that the river's volume from Anderson Ranch Reservoir will rise by 400 cubic feet per second on Monday, and another 300 cfs Tuesday, then remain at 2,400 cfs for eight days; by Aug. 29, the flows will drop back to 1,700 cfs.

A multi-agency team developed the project to mimic spring runoff, which normally would help clear out sediment and debris after fires; flows in the South Fork of the Boise are regulated by dams that store water for irrigation and flood control, so that didn't just naturally happen. The idea is to do it now at a time when water is available; Fish & Game, the Forest Service, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the University of Idaho and Trout Unlimited all are cooperating in the project. Click below for a full announcement from Fish & Game.

Constitution Party rejects own candidate for guv, but he remains on ballot

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — The Constitution Party of Idaho has rejected its gubernatorial candidate. The Lewiston Tribune reports (http://bit.ly/1kBzsTb) in a story on Wednesday that delegates at the party's recent state convention in Cascade voted against endorsing Steve Pankey for governor. The 63-year-old Pankey describes himself as celibate, a born-again Christian, and Idaho's first openly gay gubernatorial candidate. Constitution Party Chairman Floyd Whitley says Pankey's advocacy for same-sex marriage goes against party beliefs. Pankey in May wrote a letter to Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden urging him to accept a federal court ruling that overturned Idaho's ban on same-sex marriage. The Idaho Secretary of State's Office says Pankey will remain on the November ballot as a Constitution Party candidate because there are no statutory provisions for kicking someone out of a party.

Click below for a full report from the AP and the Lewiston Tribune.

Idaho court: No constitutional right to share your city water with non-paying neighbor

A Spirit Lake man has lost a court appeal challenging a city fine he received for connecting his neighbor to his city water service via a hose, after the neighbor had been cut off for non-payment. Michael Freitas charged that the city couldn’t constitutionally bar him from making a charitable gift of the water to his neighbor by running a hose across the alley. But the Idaho Court of Appeals, in a unanimous decision, upheld an earlier Kootenai County jury verdict that left Freitas with a $500 fine.

Idaho law clearly grants cities authority to provide and regulate domestic water service, the court found. And the appellate judges weren’t swayed by Freitas’ argument that he’d already paid for the water because it went through his water meter. “Although the water provided to the third party is still being paid for, the water previously provided to the third party for which that third party had not paid remains unpaid and the incentive to pay that debt is reduced,” Court of Appeals Judge John Melanson wrote for a unanimous court. “This threatens the city’s ability to provide low-cost water services.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho reports first human case of West Nile virus this year, in Blaine County

Watch out for those mosquitoes - Idaho just just reported its first human case of West Nile virus for the season. Its a Blaine County woman in her 20s who is recovering and didn't require hospitalization, but last year, Idaho had 40 human cases and two deaths. Back in 2006, the state led the nation in West Nile cases with nearly 1,000 infections and 23 deaths. Mosquitoes in nine counties from north to south have tested positive for the virus, so state health officials are advising caution. “This is a good warning for everyone to aggressively take protective measures, such as wearing repellent and reducing mosquito breeding habitat around our homes,” said Dr. Leslie Tengelsen, deputy state epidemiologist. Click below for the full announcement from the Idaho Department of Health & Welfare.

IACI launches anti-Balukoff campaign

The Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry, a lobbying group that represents the state’s largest businesses, announced today that its political action committee, the Idaho Prosperity Fund, is launching an independent campaign against A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor. “A.J. Balukoff wants Idahoans to think he’s some kind of level-headed moderate,” said Alex LaBeau, IACI chief. He said his group will seek to counter that impression and tie Balukoff to Democratic President Barack Obama, drawing on everything from Balukoff’s voting record as a Boise school board member to his campaign website.

“As the voice for a strong and vibrant economy in Idaho, the Prosperity Fund believes it’s a critical part of our mission to inform voters about the true positions of someone running for our highest office,” LaBeau said. He said the campaign will include television, direct mail, social media and more, and will be centered around a new website dubbed “LiberalAJ.com.”

Asked why his group decided to launch the effort, LaBeau said, “We wanted to make sure that there wasn’t just one side of the issue getting out there. We wanted to make sure that people understood there are two sides to this campaign.”

Balukoff is challenging GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term; former Canyon County prosecutor John Bujak also is in the race, running as a Libertarian. The ballot also includes independents Jill Humble and “Pro-Life,” and Constitution Party candidate Steve Pankey.

Idaho sees ‘alarming’ rise in pertussis cases, vaccinations urged

Idaho is seeing an “alarming” rise in cases of whooping cough or pertussis, according to the state Department of Health & Welfare, and vaccinations are being urgently recommended, particularly with the looming start of school. Idaho's already had 241 cases of whooping cough reported to public health officials in the first six months of 2014, up from 122 in the same time period last year and 129 in 2012, both of which also were high; one Idaho infant already has died of the disease this year. “Whooping cough can be life-threatening for small children and infants,” said Mitch Scoggins, program manager for the Idaho Immunization Program. “About half of babies younger than a year old who get the disease need hospitalization. To protect them, their family members and others who have contact with them need to get vaccinated so they don’t pass the disease along.”

Health & Welfare is recommending that pregnant women and all those who come in contact with young children, including their siblings and other family members, get vaccinated. Click below for the full announcement from Idaho H&W, including recommended timing for children's vaccinations.

 

Balukoff on economy: Otter’s policies have ‘driven Idaho to the bottom’

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, has sent a guest opinion out to Idaho news media laying out his vision for improving the state’s economy. “Under the state’s current leadership, our economy has plummeted,” he writes. “Today, Idaho’s families work harder for less.”

Balukoff calls for more funding for both K-12 and higher education; targeted help for existing businesses, including infrastructure improvements; and “building a better Idaho brand,” on which he writes, “My opponent has perpetrated the stereotype that Idaho is a backwater haven for political extremists. His divisive policies have driven Idaho to the bottom economically. Inadequate education investment and a national media spotlight on our foibles are bad for business. A governor should know that.”

Balukoff’s full piece is online here; I’m awaiting response from Otter’s campaign. (UPDATE: Otter's campaign said Wednesday that it would have no response.)

I-84 now officially Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway

I-84 through Idaho is now officially Vietnam Veterans Memorial Highway, under legislation passed and signed into law this year; new signs for the route were unveiled at a ceremony on the state Capitol steps this morning. “It has been far too long for this recognition to come,” declared Sen. Mike Crapo, addressing a crowd of more than 100, including many veterans. He called the choice of the state’s busiest freeway for the designation “incredibly fitting.”

The ceremony was punctuated with speeches, a rifle salute and a solemn playing of “Taps.” Retired Capt. Henry Parker, a decorated two-tour Vietnam veteran, told the crowd, “Today is another step for our healing.”

The bill, SB 1227, continues a designation that Oregon started on its portion of I-84 to the Idaho line, with the hope that Utah eventually will continue it on its section. Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, sponsored the measure. I-90 in North Idaho already is designated as Idaho’s portion of the National Purple Heart Trail.

Otter films campaign commercial, Balukoff hits Spokane market airwaves

Shoppers at the Albertson’s store at 16th and State streets reported an unusual sight this morning – Gov. Butch Otter and a crew apparently filming a campaign commercial, doing multiple takes. Otter campaign spokeswoman Kaycee Emery confirmed that’s what was happening. “We’re currently in production,” she said. “I can’t really discuss the details, but we have been to a variety of locations and we’ll continue to utilize a variety of locations across the valley.” The date that Otter’s new campaign spot will begin airing hasn’t yet been finalized, she said.

Meanwhile, the GOP governor’s Democratic challenger, A.J. Balukoff, has had his own TV campaign commercial up and running for more than a month now; it starts airing in the Spokane television market tomorrow.

Jensen says he never signed on to former rival Ybarra’s campaign team

Unsuccessful GOP state school superintendent hopeful Randy Jensen, who placed second in the four-way GOP primary, falling to Sherri Ybarra, says he never authorized Ybarra to list him as a member of her campaign team, nor has he endorsed either candidate in the general-election race between Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones. Clark Corbin, reporter for Idaho Education News, reports today that Ybarra had Jensen listed as part of her five-member “campaign committee” on her website.

Jensen told Corbin, “I never intended my name to be on anyone’s website or endorsement list. I told Jones the same thing.” Corbin reports that Jensen said he talked with Ybarra and she agreed to remove his name from her website; however, as of mid-day today, it remained listed there under “Meet the Sherri Ybarra Campaign Team.” You can read Corbin’s full report here.

‘Big Ed’ Beckley cancels planned Snake River Canyon jump

Here's a news item from the Associated Press: TWIN FALLS, Idaho (AP) — One of two motorcycle daredevils is calling off plans to try to attempt a jump over the Snake River Canyon in Idaho that Evel Knievel failed to complete 40 years ago. The Times-News reports (http://bit.ly/1kwFxQN ) “Big Ed” Beckley of Texas made the announcement on his website Saturday. Despite spending $1.6 million on the project, Beckley has faced multiple challenges preparing for the jump near Twin Falls ever since he announced his plans nearly a year ago. Most recently, Fox Broadcasting opted out of the jump because of budget concerns and time restraints. Beckley says he won't attempt the jump unless a network pays him several millions of dollars so he can recoup his costs. Hollywood stuntman Eddie Braun's attorney says he will still jump the canyon Sept. 7.

On Beckley's website here, he posted on Saturday: “For those of you who have not heard we are not doing the Snake River Canyon Jump this year and who knows yet if we ever will do it.” He added that he is “still trying to get a media partner for 2015” and has “dumped over a million bucks of our own cash money in this project.” That includes $968,000 Beckley paid the state of Idaho last fall after a hotly contested auction for rights to use state endowment land for a landing site; that money went to the endowment, which benefits the state’s schoolchildren.

Report: Idaho economic performance falls on heels of cuts to schools, taxes

Idaho’s economic performance is declining on the heels of a “dramatic erosion in resources” due to tax policy changes and falling investments in K-12 and higher education, according to a new report from the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy. The report notes that Idaho’s per-capita income is lower than all but one state, Mississippi; its low- and moderate-income residents pay a larger share of their incomes in taxes than do higher earners; per-student school funding is down 16 percent since 2008 in inflation-adjusted figures, while higher-ed funding per student is down 37 percent; and Idaho ranks 31 percent below the national average for tax collections and 41st in the nation for tax collections relative to income levels.

“While Idaho has never been a high-income state, our sharp downward trend in economic performance is alarming,” said Lauren Necochea, director of the center.

Jasper LiCalzi, chairman of the Department of Political Economy at the College of Idaho, said, “Reduced funding for education, both primary and secondary, depresses per capita income, which, along with a regressive system of taxation, reduces tax receipts for the state. These problems cannot be resolved in isolation but only together.” You can read the full report here.

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy is funded by the Northwest Area Foundation and was opened by former longtime state chief economist Mike Ferguson in 2011; Ferguson retired from the center June 30, and Necochea, who also heads Idaho KIDSCOUNT, took over. Necochea said the latest report, headed, “Six Key Facts About Idaho’s Revenue Shortage and Our Declining Economic Performance,” was designed to sum up information examined in larger reports by the center “in a way that was concise and easy to digest.”

Both the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy and Idaho KIDSCOUNT are programs housed at Mountain States Group Inc., a 501c3 nonprofit. Necochea is a native Idahoan who studied economics at Pomona College and earned her master’s degree in public affairs at Princeton. Ferguson called her “ideally suited” to taking over the center. Though Ferguson no longer has an official role with the center, Necochea said, “Mike is a dear friend and we’re still talking to him frequently.”

Idaho’s poorest school districts struggle to pass tax levies

So far in 2014, voters in 48 Idaho school districts have approved supplemental property tax levies – increasing their own taxes to prop up basic school funding, reports Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News – while voters in just four districts rejected levies. Richert notes something those four have in common: All are among Idaho’s poorest school districts.

The four have from 69.6 percent to 93.9 percent of their students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch, a common measure of poverty in school districts; the state average is 48.8 percent. In Wilder, which ranks No. 1 in the state for student poverty, a two-year levy failed on May 20 by 25 votes; the district is trying again Aug. 26. You can read Richert’s full report here.

Catching up on the news…

Catching up from the past week’s news while I was gone:

There was a major development in the race for state Superintendent of Schools, as the Idaho Association of School Administrators invited both candidates to speak and answer questions at a high-profile forum at its annual conference in Boise last Monday. Democratic nominee Jana Jones spoke and answered questions from the 460 school administrators in attendance, but GOP nominee Sherri Ybarra declined the invitation. During the conference, Idaho EdNews reporter Clark Corbin spotted Ybarra in the same downtown Boise neighborhood having coffee; she told Corbin she was waiting to meet with a Republican legislator and her schedule was too busy to attend the IASA conference; you can read his Monday report here, which includes reporting on Jones’ call at the conference for building a new education coalition.

Two days later, Ybarra issued a press release criticizing the Idaho EdNews story, saying she planned to attend the IASA conference as a participant later in the week. She also met with reporters and said a doctor’s appointment was among her schedule conflicts on Monday, and announced that 10 GOP lawmakers and a group of educators had endorsed her but said she wouldn’t immediately name them. There’s more on that herehere and here.

Meanwhile, this year’s Idaho Superintendent of the Year Chuck Shackett, a high-profile supporter of the voter-rejected “Students Come First” school reform laws - which Jones strongly opposed - and prominent Republican, endorsed Jones. “I trust Jana completely,” Shackett said Tuesday, hours after he was honored as superintendent of the year; he noted that when Jones, former chief deputy state superintendent, left the State Department of Education, he tried to hire her to head the Bonneville School District’s special education programs.

In other news last week, data released Thursday by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that Idaho residents have among the lowest personal incomes in the nation but spend a higher percentage of their money on food, housing and other essentials. AP reporter Rebecca Boone reported that Idahoans had to spend more than 43 percent of their income on the basics; only Mississippi was higher. You can read her full report here.

Former longtime Idaho Statesman political columnist and reporter Dan Popkey talked with Boise State Public Radio on why he made the switch to become 1st District GOP Rep. Raul Labrador's new press secretary; his interview with BSPR's Scott Graf is online here.

Severe thunderstorms on Wednesday caused large amounts of sediment to flow into the South Fork of the Salmon River, killing 1,200 adult Chinook salmon at an Idaho Fish & Game trapping facility and also killing some Chinook in the river; about 200 adult Chinook were saved and transferred to a hatchery near Riggins. Because summer Chinook run in a four-year cycle, the kill is expected to result in significantly fewer of the fish returning to the South Fork in 2018.

And the Idaho Transportation Department on Friday issued a permit to Bigge Crane for a giant megaload of equipment bound for a Great Falls, Mont. oil refinery to travel up Highway 95 and across the Long Bridge to Sandpoint in North Idaho; it’s expected to reach Sandpoint around the middle of this week. Originally, the load was proposed to be hauled along Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive en route to Montana by Mammoet, but the need for a federal environmental assessment derailed that plan; the equipment, already shipped to the Port of Wilma, then was cut into three parts, with two of them shipped by rail. The third, which is 21 feet wide, 16 feet 8 inches high and 311 feet long, weighs up to 1.086 million pounds; ITD says it will travel between 10 p.m. and 5:30 a.m.

On vacation…

From the misty California coast, around through the dry valleys inland, and back up across the smoke-wreathed, forested mountains, this trip has now brought me back to the Northwest where the wind blows and the waterfalls flow. Family, food, scenery and good memories along the way.

New Idaho GOP Chairman Yates faces plenty of challenges

New Idaho GOP Chairman Steve Yates has his work cut out for him. He told reporters today that his next major challenge will be getting the state party office open; he’s also asking county GOP chairmen to contact him with any outstanding bills that need to be paid.

Idaho Public TV’s Melissa Davlin reports that she’s spoken with several central committee members who said they’re optimistic his election will help move the party forward, even if they didn’t vote for him; Yates won a three-way contact, defeating Douglas Pickett and Mike Duff.

The party he’s now heading has been in disarray since its June state party convention in Moscow, at which deeply divided delegates squabbled over seating several counties’ delegations and never got to votes on leadership, resolutions or a party platform. Republicans currently hold every statewide office in Idaho. Click below for a full report from the AP.

Idaho GOP central committee chooses Yates as new party chairman

Idaho’s GOP state central committee has voted in Steve Yates as the next state party chairman; he defeated Mike Duff of Blackfoot and Douglas Pickett of Oakley. Yates is a former aide to Dick Cheney and recent arrival to the state who unsuccessfully challenged GOP Rep. Jeff Thompson in the primary.

Yates acknowledged his newcomer status in his stump speech to the committee, in which he emphasized that he moved here because he loves the state, Idaho Public TV’s Melissa Davlin reports. He talked about finding common ground and resolving conflicts quickly and quietly. “I have my own point of views,” Yates said, but said it's not the chairman's job to impose his opinions on others.

In Duff's speech, he asked for unity in the party. “Our enemy is not in the Republican Party. Our enemy is in the Progressive Socialist Party, formerly known as the Democratic Party.” He also blasted candidates Richard Stallings and AJ Balukoff, calling the latter a “limousine liberal.”

Pickett's speech started with an extended metaphor comparing the party to an energetic colt. He also appealed for unity. “We are all Republicans after all,” he said.

Today's selection was required because the June state Republican Party convention ended in disarray and division - without any votes on party leaders, resolutions or a platform. Former Chairman Barry Peterson maintained he was still in charge after that, changing the locks on the state party office and filing suit against other party officers, but lost in court, leading to today's meeting.

GOP meeting’s start neither quick nor painless…

As this morning’s Idaho Republican Party central committee meeting got started, Idaho Public TV’s Melissa Davlin reported that a fair number of delegates are using proxies, and there is some confusion as eligibility.

Damond Watkins, National Committeeman, gave the invocation and asked for respect during the prayer. Then Bryan Smith claimed “mass meeting rules” are in order, and parliamentarian Jesse Binnall concurred. Smith challenged the meeting chairman named on the agenda, Chuck Winder, and proposed Damond Watkins run the meeting. The delegates voted for Watkins, and the meeting started.

Reports Davlin, “People showed up this morning hoping the meeting would be quick and painless. Not sure this start to the day will foster that.”

Get blog updates by email

About this blog

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

Latest comments »

Read all the posts from recent conversations on Eye On Boise.

Search this blog
Subscribe to this blog
ADVERTISEMENT
Advertise Here