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JFAC bogs down in fight over Liquor Division budget, 2 new Boise-area stores

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, a 20-member joint committee that sets the state budget, meets in this ornate room in the state Capitol that historically was the Idaho Supreme Court's chamber. (The Spokesman-Review / Betsy Z. Russell)
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, a 20-member joint committee that sets the state budget, meets in this ornate room in the state Capitol that historically was the Idaho Supreme Court's chamber. (The Spokesman-Review / Betsy Z. Russell)

JFAC bogged down in a big way this morning over the state Liquor Division budget, as Sen. Fred Martin, R-Boise, led an ultimately unsuccessful move to try to reject funding for two new state liquor stores in the Treasure Valley – one of them in his own district. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Seven votes, two of them tied; one reconsideration; and a whole lot of contention later, funding for the two new stores finally was approved on an 11-7 vote. The debate on the $21.4 million budget, which includes no state general funds, ended up taking about the same amount of time that JFAC spent this year on the public school budget – the state’s largest single budget, adding up to $1.785 billion in state general funds.

Martin said, “There are 40 state-run liquor stores in the Treasure Valley, 20 in the greater Boise metro area. … I don’t believe in giving the money to increase the number of existing stores. I don’t think it’s needed.”

Sen. Jeff Agenbroad, R-Nampa, countered, “The state Liquor Division has responsibly managed the consumption in Idaho, evidenced by Idaho’s consumption being well below the national average. To pardon the pun, they have not saturated the market with stores. In fact, despite our rapid increase in population, the store numbers have not increased since 2008.”

He noted that the two new stores are projected to provide a 100 percent return on investment within two years, and they would be funded entirely with dedicated funds generated by the Liquor Division; no state general funds would be used.

Rep. Phylis King, D-Boise, noted that proceeds from the state Liquor Division go to the state general fund, cities, counties and courts. “All the distributions come back to the state, counties and cities,” she said. “It’s good to have that money.”

Martin also objected to approving a $12,800 request in the Liquor Division budget to cover Sunday hours of operation at three North Idaho stores, in Orofino, St. Maries, and Priest River; budget projections showed the investment would immediately be offset by increased sales. That item ended up going unfunded in the seventh version of the budget that JFAC considered and finally agreed on.

Martin said, “I guess prior to being in the Legislature, I wondered why the state was in the liquor business. I don’t wonder now, I know that we should be. I fully support the three-tiered system that we have and the controls and the income that comes from this item.”

But he steadfastly opposed the idea of adding additional stores or hours.

A day earlier, Martin had cast the tie-breaking vote in JFAC to reject $207,300 in additional funding for the College of Western Idaho – which also is in his district – to add direct student services staffing to help retain students, including a crisis counselor who would be available to the school’s 700 enrolled students who are veterans.

“CWI is doing an excellent job – their enrollment is going up,” Martin said this morning. “It was a close call, but I just felt like they didn’t need that particular funding at this time.”

Martin said, “I think it’s important to look at the overall budget. I don’t believe in trying to protect necessarily regional turf, if I think that it’s not in the best interest of the state.”

The votes on the Liquor Division budget were sharply divided, with members with religious objections to liquor consumption generally opposing adding the two new state liquor stores.

Two JFAC members were absent from this morning’s deliberations, Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, and Sen. Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene. Souza was the sponsor of the budget proposal that sought to include both the two new stores and the additional Sunday hours in North Idaho, but she was presenting her school board elections bill in the House Education Committee this morning at the same time that JFAC was deliberating on the liquor budget. Agenbroad said Souza hoped to return to JFAC before the budget came up, but that she’d arranged with him to “pinch-hit” if she didn’t. He made several of the motions that failed.

The final, successful budget motion was proposed by JFAC Co-Chair Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, after the other proposals had been shot down. It included the two new stores in the Treasure Valley, but rejected the funding for the additional Sunday hours in North Idaho. Proposals that already had failed included one to include the North Idaho hours but not the two new stores; and another to include one of the new stores but not the North Idaho hours.



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

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