Eye On Boise

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.

Lawmakers to examine endowment-land investments 

LEWISTON, Idaho (AP) — 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.

"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 Lewiston Tribune (http://bit.ly/1pVK53I ).

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?"

Idaho has 2.4 million acres of endowment lands benefiting state institutions, principally education, that must be managed to obtain the maximum, long-term return. Ever since receiving the land when Idaho attained statehood in 1890, Idaho leaders have had to decide what to do with it.

"Idaho originally received 3.5 million acres of trust lands," said Secretary of State Ben Ysursa, a member of the Land Board. "Now it's down to 2.4 million. Some states got it and sold it all right away. Idaho came up with a hybrid stance, selling some and hanging on to the rest."

About 1.1 million acres of endowment lands are forest containing an estimated 5.5 billion board feet of timber. About 250 million board feet are harvested each year. The state also has grazing land, and the committee plans to look at grazing fees.

The committee will also look at what it should do with revenue from upcoming cottage-site sales. The state is in the process of selling the properties and investing the proceeds, a move the Land Board determined would produce more revenue than earning 2.5 percent through leasing.

The endowment could receive more than $200 million from the sales.

Options for using the money include buying more land or putting the money in the permanent fund, where it's invested in stocks and bonds.

"Unless there's some real hot project out there, I think the more prudent fiscal decision will be to transfer the money to the permanent fund," Ysursa said.

Besides Ysursa, the five-member Land Board includes Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna, and State Controller Brandon Woolf.

The state has earned an average of $70 million in gross revenue from endowment lands since 2007, mostly through timber sales, with a net of about $47 million after expenses.

Permanent fund investments, though, have grown by about $100 million per year since 2007 despite a $200 million loss in 2009.

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Information from: Lewiston Tribune, http://www.lmtribune.com


 

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Russell covers Idaho news from the state capitol in Boise and writes the Eye on Boise blog.

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