Idaho argued its appeal in the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals today of a federal judge's ruling overturning the state's “fetal pain” abortion law that sought to ban all abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Idaho was one of seven states to enact such laws in 2011; it was voided by a federal judge in March of 2013 as unconstitutional. Jennie Linn McCormack, an eastern Idaho woman, and Richard Hearn, an attorney and medical doctor, sued the state after she was charged with felony illegal abortion because prosecutors said she took an abortion-causing drug obtained over the Internet to terminate a pregnancy that was past the 20-week mark. In its appeal, the state contended McCormick couldn't argue the law put an undue burden on women because charges against her had been dropped and the case was moot. But that argument drew sharp questions Friday from the appeals court judges to Deputy Idaho Attorney General Clay Smith immediately drew sharp questions Friday, especially after it was determined the 5-year statute of limitations on the charge initially faced by McCormick hasn't expired. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Keith Ridler.
Idaho got its best interest rate ever this year on its annual sale of tax anticipation notes, which the state uses to manage its cash flow throughout the year. This year’s sale of $475 million in notes, completed last month, brought an interest rate of just .11 basis points, or 11/100ths of a percentage point. “That’s virtually free money,” said state Treasurer Ron Crane. Last year’s rate, which set the previous record low, was .19 basis points. Crane said the state drew orders from buyers who wanted $3.1 billion in Idaho’s notes when it only had $475 million to sell. “So we bumped the interest rate down to 11, and the buyers all held.”
He estimated the savings to the state’s taxpayers compared to last year’s costs at nearly $400,000; each basis point in interest costs $47,500. “Idaho paper is extremely valuable in the marketplace, because investors know they will get paid back,” Crane said. “This is because we have a track record of managing our finances well.”
Crane’s annual trip to the financial markets in New York for the sale, which typically includes a bevy of state officials, made headlines in 2011 amid reports that the Idaho group traveled in 10-person stretch limos in the Big Apple. Crane defended the practice, saying it was the most efficient way of transporting the group in the city and it was also what his predecessors had done, but he’s discontinued it; Idaho’s delegation to the New York financial markets now travels in SUV’s from a car service.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Boise State University officials say they will rescind the security fees they charged a student group for bringing a guns right advocate earlier this year to speak at the campus. However, university attorney Kevin Satterlee says BSU will not change its event policies as requested by the Idaho Freedom Foundation and American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho. Satterlee says the university charged Young Americans for Liberty $465 for the May event after seeing a community member encourage attendees to bring weapons on campus. Not providing extra security, Satterlee says, would be considered negligence. The ACLU and Freedom Foundation has described the university's event policies unconstitutional and threatened to sue unless they were amended.
A motorist with Colorado license plates who contends the Idaho State Police profiled him because of his plates and fruitlessly detained and searched his car for marijuana can proceed with his federal lawsuit. Lawyers for Darien Roseen amended the lawsuit complaint after the state of Idaho contended the ISP was protected by the state’s sovereign immunity and couldn’t be sued. All sides have now agreed to proceed under the amended complaint, which drops the ISP as a target but includes ISP Trooper Justin Klitch, along with Payette County, the city of Fruitland, and several of their officers who participated in the traffic stop.
Roseen, 69, was pulled over just as he crossed into Idaho on I-84 in January of 2013, and pressed by Klitch to allow a search of his vehicle for drugs, which he refused. He then was detained and his vehicle searched for hours before he was allowed to go; nothing illegal was found.
His lawsuit charges numerous violations of his constitutional rights, along with discriminatory and selective treatment by profiling. He had Colorado plates and a Washington driver’s license; both states have legalized marijuana, while Idaho has not. A trial in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Boise likely will be set for early 2015, according to court documents.
As wildfires continue to burn in Idaho, sending smoke everywhere from Boise to the North Idaho Panhandle – where burning has been banned in all five northernmost counties due to wildfire smoke - an estimated 100 homes have burned in the Carlton Complex Fire in north-central Washington. That blaze is burning in the scenic Methow Valley near Leavenworth; it had blackened 260 square miles by this morning, up dramatically from the last estimate of 28 square miles. You can read a full report here at spokesman.com.
Embattled state GOP Chairman Barry Peterson announced today that he and six backers have filed a lawsuit in state district court in Twin Falls County, challenging the state GOP central committee meeting that's been set for Aug. 2 by petition of several counties' delegations to pick new state party leaders. The lawsuit targets Mike Mathews and Cindy Siddoway, whom Peterson termed “the two party members who illegally issued a call for a special meeting of the State Central Committee while unilaterally declaring that all state party offices were vacant.”
“It is with great regret that we have had to take this legal action to enforce state party rules,” Peterson said in a statement. “Since June 12, 2014, much effort has been put forth to sit down with Gov. Otter to resolve this issue. With no response from the governor, this action is necessary to uphold the integrity of the party and the party Rules.” Click below for his full statement. Peterson called for a meeting of the same body on Aug. 9. While he maintains he's still the state party chairman, others say his term ended after two years when this year's state party convention ended in disarray, without any votes on leaders, resolutions or a party platform. Instead, factions within the party spent the entire convention fighting over whether or not to allow several counties' delegations to participate. The Idaho Statesman has posted Peterson's complaint here.
Olivia Craven, executive director of the state Commission of Pardons and Parole since 1984, is retiring in mid-August, and today Gov. Butch Otter named her replacement: Sandy Jones, who now heads up jail re-entry programs and alternative sentencing for the Ada County Sheriff's Office. “Sandy’s impressive work establishing processes and managing the startup of a misdemeanor probation program for Idaho’s most populous county, as well as her enthusiasm for and understanding of what’s at stake in implementing Idaho’s Justice Reinvestment efforts to reduce the number of offenders returning to prison after their release, make her an excellent choice for executive director,” Otter said in a statement; click below for his full announcement.
Pardons & Parole is in the midst of a “significant transition,” Otter said, with the start of Idaho's new justice reinvestment program, which will try to better monitor offenders on probation and parole while reserving prison cells for the most dangerous criminals; the hope is to save millions in costs to build new prisons. “Almost everyone in our prisons eventually gets out,” Jones said. “Whether they succeed in society is up to them, but our job is to carefully assess when they are ready and help commissioners make good decisions about maximizing the chances of success while minimizing the risk to the public.”
She added, “I am a reentry person, so I’m looking forward to being a part of making the Justice Reinvestment reforms and our supervision system work.”
Current Idaho state tax commissioner and former state Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, has been named the new director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Charles Correll, state parks board chairman, said, “The Board selected David Langhorst based on his experience, management skills, and proven ability to lead through times of change. He also has a strong desire to ensure access to Idaho’s many outdoor parks and recreational opportunities for future generations.” Langhorst will start Aug. 4, replacing Nancy Merrill, who has served as director since 2009. Idaho has 30 state parks, in addition to numerous recreational programs and trails.
Langhorst, a former commercial real estate appraiser, served in the state House from 2002 to 2004 and in the Senate from 2004 to 2008, rising to minority leader; he was appointed to the state Tax Commission in July of 2009. He's been a high school teacher, a hunter safety instructor, and an active member of sportsmen's and wildlife groups. Click below for the department's full announcement.
A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, is matching contributions to his campaign by putting in $3 for every $1 donated this month, Idaho Statesman political columnist Dan Popkey reports today. Balukoff’s pledge is credible because the multimillionaire businessman can afford it – and he said when he announced his candidacy against two-term GOP Gov. Butch Otter that he was willing to dip into his own funds to help finance his campaign.
“I know that pay-to-pay politics will put my opponent at a financial advantage, but I was surprised to find out how slanted it is,” Popkey reported Balukoff said in a fundraising pitch sent out to supporters this week, headed, “Jump in July: TRIPLE MATCH!” Balukoff told Popkey, “I think it’s important that this race be competitive and that we talk about issues. People pay attention when they realize there’s a viable alternative to Gov. Otter.” Popkey’s full report is online here.
Gov. Butch Otter announced his choices for two openings of the state Board of Education today: David Hill of Boise, retired executive vice president of the Battelle Energy Alliance and deputy director for science and technology at the Idaho National Laboratory; and Debbie Critchfield of Oakley, a former member and chairman of the Cassia County School Board, current member of the Cassia County Republican Central Committee and an active education volunteer who served on the state technology task force. Hill will replace longtime board member Milford Terrell, who stepped down this month; Critchfield will replace Ken Edmunds, who left the board to become Otter's director of the Idaho Department of Labor in November. Otter called the field of applicants for the two posts “stellar,” saying in a statement, “Frankly, I couldn’t have made a bad choice. I’m very grateful for the willingness of all the candidates to serve and to help advance my vision for education in Idaho.” Click below for Otter's full announcement.
Year-end state tax revenue figures announced yesterday showed that Idaho ended up with $7.2 million more than expected at the end of the fiscal year June 30, but the state actually has a significantly larger budget surplus than that. Here’s why: This year’s state budget didn’t call for spending all the tax revenue the state expected to collect. Instead, $36 million was transferred to various budget stabilization funds, and another $44.4 million was left unspent, creating a year-end balance or surplus.
The monthly Budget and Revenue Monitor from the Legislature’s budget staff lays out the figures; you can see it here. It shows the ending balance, or surplus, at the end of fiscal year 2014 at $44.4 million, $17.6 million higher than was anticipated at the close of this year’s legislative session.
Factors pushing the number higher, aside from the increased revenue collections, are year-end reversions of unspent money from various state agencies, including $6.4 million from the Catastrophic Health Care Program due to lower than anticipated costs; $5.9 million from other agencies; and $1.6 million in other year-end adjustments, all adding to the surplus. (If you’re doing the math, the Legislature’s budget figures already counted part of the $7.2 million based on revenue reports that came in before the Legislature adjourned; so by its calculation, the additional year-end boost from revenues was $3.6 million beyond expectations rather than $7.2 million.)
When lawmakers return to town in January, they’ll need to act on a series of deficiency warrants largely consisting of $17.5 million for firefighting costs; that would still leave more than $26 million from the surplus. An additional reversion from Medicaid also is expected to boost the total in August or September.
Coeur d’Alene actually had the highest score in the competition for a state mental health crisis center by a slim margin, Coeur d’Alene Press reporter Taryn Thompson reports today, but lost out to Idaho Falls because North Idaho lawmakers didn’t support the project. North Idaho Reps. Kathy Sims, Vito Barbieri, and Ron Mendive and Sen. Bob Nonini all voted against SB 1352, which passed the House 28-6 and the Senate 53-14 and sought to establish three of the centers. JFAC approved funding for just one in the first year, putting three locations – Coeur d’Alene, Idaho Falls and Boise – in competition for it.
Thompson reported that the Department of Health & Welfare scored the competing proposals, then worked with the governor’s office to make the final choice. “The fact that a majority of legislators in eastern Idaho wanted the project helped in the final decision,” Otter’s press secretary, Jon Hanian, told the Press; he cited a “proven level of legislative support in eastern Idaho.”
You can read Thompson’s full report here; she obtained the scoring data through a public records request under the Idaho Public Records Act. Over the weekend, Thompson reported on the magnitude of the mental health crisis in North Idaho that had local officials hoping for funding for a 24-hour crisis center; see that report here. Letters in support of the Coeur d’Alene crisis center were signed by the county commissions and sheriffs of all five North Idaho Panhandle counties.
Barbieri told Thompson that law enforcement and others don’t need to “panic or specifically worry.” He said, “If it turns out that there's as dire a need here as opposed to somewhere else in the state, they'll get it. … Of course, with a bureaucrat, they all need it right away.”
The familiar scent of wildfire smoke began wafting into town yesterday, and today it’s noticeably smoky in Boise. Smoke from the Whiskey Complex of fires in the Garden Valley area, along with some from fires in Oregon, filtered into the Treasure Valley overnight, and higher-level air flows are bringing in smoke from fires in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Canada. “We seem to be getting a significant amount more smoke in the valley than we anticipated,” said Mike Toole, regional airshed coordinator for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.
And here’s the bad news: Tomorrow likely will be worse, and it’ll stick around. “We’re definitely going to have these smoke impacts lingering for the foreseeable future,” Toole said. “It could be a couple of weeks. … Just with the sheer amount of fires and where they’re located, we could be seeing smoke impacts for quite a while.”
Idaho City and Garden Valley hit red alert levels for air quality due to wildfire smoke today; that’s defined as unhealthy for everyone. Boise’s air quality was registering in the good-to-moderate range at mid-day; Idaho City was in the red zone. See real-time air monitoring online here from the Idaho DEQ; and smoke forecasts here. Tomorrow is predicted to be in the moderate range in Boise; the forecast warns that high-level smoke likely will settle in the Treasure Valley this evening after the sun sets. “We’re going to kind of see the same thing for a while,” Toole said.
Idahoans increasingly are being targeted by a scam in which aggressive callers claim to be IRS agents and threaten arrest, liens, and even “bodily harm” if the victims don’t pay up immediately, Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden reported today. “We’ve seen steady reporting of the IRS scam in the last few months,” Wasden said, as he released the annual report of his Consumer Protection Division – which received more than 800 complaints over the past year and recovered $1.9 million in restitution for wronged consumers. “The best response is to simply hang up on these crooks.”
Jennifer Pedregon of Boise, shown here, said she heard her parents’ answering machine receive a call from what sounded like a real IRS agent – including badge number and phone number to call back – saying her dad owed taxes and needed to get back to the “agent,” “otherwise further legal action would be taken within eight to 10 days.” She was concerned, but then her cell phone rang, and she received an identical call, this time threatening her rather than her father. “I realized that that was probably not a legitimate IRS agent,” Pedregon said.
Deana DuVall of Meridian got a message on her answering machine from a heavily accented caller claiming to be an IRS agent and demanding a call back on her husband’s case. When she returned the call, the man demanded her phone number; she declined. “He started yelling at me,” she said. “He said, “We will have your husband arrested in 45 minutes – we’re coming.” The man called back later that afternoon, DuVall said. “We knew it had to be fraud. But it was scary, because they knew personal things about my husband and me – we don’t know how.” Both women filed complaints with the Attorney General’s office.
Some of the scammers have managed to mask their phone numbers so it looks like the calls come from toll-free IRS numbers; some have correctly given the last four digits of the intended victim’s Social Security number. Brett DeLange, head of the office’s Consumer Protection Division, said, “The IRS is not going to call you and say you owe money. … That’s just not how they do business. You’re going to get a notice in the mail.” He said, “The most important message is hang up, and the sooner the better – don’t talk to these people. They’re criminals.”
Idaho has been receiving steady reports of the scam statewide in recent months, though it’s been around for several years, DeLange said. It’s among an array of consumer-protection issues the office addresses. Among the highlights of the past year for the office was the successful federal antitrust lawsuit rejecting the purchase of Saltzer Medical Group by St. Luke’s Health System; that ruling is now on appeal. The division also has recovered millions for Idahoans in cases involving everything from e-books to pharmaceutical pricing to discount clubs.
Wasden said the nearly $2 million in recoveries for Idaho consumers amounts to $2.72 for each taxpayer dollar appropriated for consumer operations in 2014. The full Consumer Protection Division annual report, released today, is online here.
Idaho Supreme Court Justice Warren Jones is still being treated at a Utah hospital after taking ill June 6, just before the court was to hear oral arguments in Twin Falls, Idaho Statesman columnist Dan Popkey reports this morning; Jones, 70, plans to return to Boise July 25, but his return to duty on the court has not been set. In his absence, retired Justice Jesse Walters has been filling in for Jones. That’s meant Walters had to listen to audio recordings of arguments in five cases heard in Twin Falls just after Jones became ill, to catch up and help decide them.
Popkey reports that former Justice Wayne Kidwell also is filling in, sitting on a sixth case argued in Twin Falls last month on which he’s been assigned to write the opinion, and handling two cases scheduled for argument in August.
Walters, who is now assigned a total of 20 cases, including two scheduled for argument July 29 and a dozen to be heard in August, told Popkey he’s been working mostly from home and going to the court about six hours a day, three days a week. “It wasn’t what we were planning to do this summer, but I’m available to help out,” he said. If necessary, he said, “I’m prepared to fill in for the rest of the year.” The nature of Jones’ illness hasn’t been disclosed. Court administrator Patti Tobias told Popkey, “We all expect a full recovery and we expect him back on the court.”
Jones, a native of Montpelier, was appointed to the court by Gov. Butch Otter in 2007 and won election to a full six-year term in 2008. Popkey’s full report is online here.
Idaho state tax revenues came in strong in June, topping forecasts by 2.9 percent or $8.4 million. That put the state at $2.8154 billion in general fund tax collections for the fiscal year, which ended July 1; that’s 0.3 percent above the January 2014 forecast, or $7.2 million higher for the year.
Idaho’s general fund grew 2.4 percent from fiscal year 2013 to fiscal 2014, slightly faster than the predicted 2.1 percent. Individual income taxes were the strongest growth area, beating projections by $9.5 million, while sales taxes were slightly below forecasted growth, but still up 3.2 percent from the previous year. In 2013, sales tax collections grew 8 percent; the state Division of Financial Management noted that part of the reason for the slower growth in fiscal 2014 is that it’s the first year $18.9 million a year was diverted from sales tax collections to cover the cost of personal property tax relief legislation. Without that diversion, sales taxes would have shown 4.9 percent growth.
Gov. Butch Otter hailed the year-end figures, saying, “I’m proud that Idaho is committed to living within the taxpayers’ means, and I’m proud of the Legislature and our state employees for ensuring that commitment is met.” You can see the monthly General Fund Revenue Report here.
A new study out today from the Pew Charitable Trusts identifies both Idaho and Washington as among just 12 states that do things right when it comes to saving for a rainy day – accounting for the volatility of their revenue streams in how they decide when and how much to save. “The practices followed by the 12 states that tie deposits to volatility stand out as examples of how revenue and economic fluctuations can be harnessed to smooth over changes in the business cycle,” the report found. But the other 38 states face just as much volatility in their revenues, it noted, and have suffered when downturns hit and they weren’t adequately prepared.
Idaho’s Budget Stabilization Fund law triggers a transfer from the general fund to the savings account whenever state general fund revenue grow by more than 4 percent from the previous year, with transfers up to a maximum of 1 percent of revenue. Washington made almost no contributions to its budget stabilization account through the 2000s, but voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2007 and another in 2011 requiring deposit to the rainy-day fund during windfalls years. “It’s there to capture whatever the next bubble is,” Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center said in the report.
“The choice to save is not always an easy one,” the report noted. “Setting aside revenue often means forgoing tax cuts or additional spending on programs. Over the long run, however, the tough choices states make in good times can prevent them from having to make even tougher ones during bad times, when residents may be least able to absorb the impact of tax increases or cutbacks in spending. Linking savings to actual fluctuations can harness growth without requiring contributions during lean years.”
The report did find some fault with Idaho’s process – the deposits to the Budget Stabilization Fund are “all or nothing” depending on the revenue growth level; even in boom years, no more than 1 percent is set aside, and when growth is below 4 percent, nothing is required to be added to the fund.
“No state is doing everything it should,” the report concluded. “With continued growth forecast for most states, the next several years offer a critical opportunity to make strategic adjustments to budget stabilization funds that will prepare states for the effects of volatility for years to come.” The full report is online here.
The Idaho Lottery celebrated its 25th year today by presenting a record dividend to the state of Idaho – the 11th straight year it’s set a record. This time, $49 million went to the state, to be divided between schools and the state’s Permanent Building Fund, which builds and maintains state buildings. That’s up $800,000 from last year’s profit. “The Idaho Lottery’s reputation for security and responsible play continues to remain unblemished,” said Jeff Anderson, state lottery director.
Idaho Gov. Butch Otter said the lottery’s success is a tribute to “the faith that the people in Idaho had in our ability to operate something as sensitive as a gaming operation – a lottery. What makes the lottery is the integrity. When they buy a ticket, there’s no monkey business with that. … They’ve got as good a chance (of winning) as anybody.” Otter noted that Idahoans were skeptical about the idea of a state lottery. “We had to go back twice to the people of Idaho,” he said, “and quite frankly, we won the lottery, and have won the lottery each and every year.”
Implementation of Idaho’s state lottery also opened the door to tribal gaming on the state’s Indian reservations, under federal law, and Otter said that’s overall been a win for the state as well, though he and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden recently filed an unsuccessful lawsuit attempting to block the Coeur d’Alene Tribe from opening a poker room at its North Idaho casino, and that dispute is ongoing.
Otter recalled when he chaired a gaming task force for then-Gov. Phil Batt and traveled the state, visiting all types of gaming operations, from tribal casinos to local race tracks. “We saw the proceeds from the tribal gaming actually being put to very good use, just like the use we put our lottery to,” Otter said, including investments in education, roads, water treatment and more. “Overall, I would say it has turned out to be a positive for the tribes,” he said, as well as “for those communities around the reservations.”
Mel Fisher, chairman of the state Lottery Commission, said the lottery’s sales have grown 50 percent in the past five years, and the dividend to the state’s schools and building fund has doubled in the past 10 years. On average over the past 25 years, the lottery has brought in more than $71,000 a day for the state, he noted.
The Idaho Lottery sold its first ticket in July of 1989; it was purchased by the late billionaire J.R. Simplot. This year’s dividend provides $30.625 million to schools, including $12.25 million for the bond levy equalization fund and $18.375 million for the state Department of Education’s building fund account. The Permanent Building Fund this year gets $18.375 million. Overall, dividends returned to the state from the lottery since its inception now total $649.5 million.
Here’s a news item from the Associated Press: BLACKFOOT, Idaho (AP) — Organizers of a southeastern Idaho aerial drop of 3,000 pingpong balls worth prizes immediately called off the event when the pilot missed the crowd and hit instead a nearby interstate highway. Aaron Moon and helpers on Saturday told revelers at Blackfoot Pride Days not to risk retrieving the pingpong balls amid high-speed traffic because organizes still planned to pass out prizes. Most of the pingpong balls can be exchanged for candy, but some are worth gift certificates up to $100. Moon says a new pilot attempted the drop this year but apparently didn't understand that pingpong balls lose speed quickly and drop straight down. Blackfoot Police Chief Kurt Asmus tells the Idaho State Journal (http://bit.ly/SxHTxs) that no charges are planned, but police plan to work with organizers next year.
Idaho auctioned off 13 state-owned cabin sites at Payette Lake in 2013, 10 of them previously leased and three vacant. Now, with the first such voluntary auction – cabin owners who rent the lots under their cabins can decide whether they want to participate – coming up at Priest Lake on Aug. 28, the state has approved a second round of auctions at Payette Lake for later this year.
The state Department of Lands has received applications from 30 Payette Lake cabin site renters who want to go to auction; it’s proposing putting those 30 plus six vacant sites up for auction. The state Land Board voted unanimously this morning to go ahead with the auction of the 36 lots, to be held in November or December.
At the first Payette auction, all 13 sites sold, with a total selling price of $5.88 million. The 10 previously leased lots all were purchased by the owners of the cabins on them; only one saw competitive bidding, pushing the price up to $11,000 above the appraised value, which is set as the minimum bid. The three vacant lots all saw competitive bidding. All three sold for more than their appraised values, with one appraised at $662,400 selling for $1 million.