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Posts tagged: Idaho state endowment

Land Board approves $1.5M increase in endowment payout to schools next year

Idaho’s state Land Board has voted unanimously in favor of recommendations for distributions to the state endowment beneficiaries – the largest of which is public schools – that include only a small increase for schools. In fiscal year 2016, public schools would receive a $1.5 million increase in its endowment payment to $32.8 million. That’s a 4.7 percent increase; the state’s other, smaller endowments would see larger, 8.7 percent increases, except for one that would stay even, based on its reserve levels. Higher earnings in the other funds also would lead to a transfer from reserves to the permanent fund of $38.6 million.

Larry Johnson, investment manager for the state endowment fund, said if Idaho were to distribute its target of 5 percent of the permanent fund to schools in 2016, that’d be $40 million. But that level would cut too far into reserves, he said, which are targeted to cover five years of payouts.

New forecasts, however, show schools likely would be in for larger increases in payouts in subsequent years, Johnson told the Land Board. In fiscal year 2017, the public school payout likely would rise to $39 million, and in fiscal 2018, to $44 million. “I think the outlook going forward is very positive,” Johnson said. Among factors leading to that positive outlook are “the amount of timber that’s been pre-sold that we know is going to flow into the public school.”

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna questioned whether the state would ever get to those higher payouts, given its policy of having five years of reserves on hand to cover payouts of 5 percent of the permanent fund each year. If the permanent fund keeps growing, it’d be harder and harder to get up to five years’ worth of reserves, he noted, because that 5 percent figure would keep rising. Johnson said the distributions still would rise each year, though, to one-fifth of whatever is in the reserve at that point.   

The point of the five years of reserves, he said, is that the payouts to the beneficiaries – including schools – would continue without reduction even in years when earnings are off. “We believe this is a conservative forecast,” Johnson said. Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News has a full report here.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Buoyed by strong earnings, state endowment fund hits record $1.7B

Idaho’s state endowment fund earned 18.8 percent on its investments in the past year, investment manager Larry Johnson told the state Land Board this morning. He said that’s the second-highest earnings year in its history; the fund is now worth $1.736 billion, a new record. The endowment fund’s earnings mainly benefit the state’s public schools, along with other institutions. The Endowment Fund Investment Board will meet in mid-August to finalize its recommendations on distributions to the schools and other beneficiaries in fiscal year 2016; that recommendation will come to the Land Board in September. Distributions to schools are likely to rise slightly, from $31.3 million a year to $31.5 million, now that reserves have reached the target level.

“Likely the fund will earn between 6 and 7 percent over the next 10 years,” Johnson said, saying he can’t promise a continuation of the recent very strong earnings. Over the past five years, the fund’s returns were 14.6 percent; over the past 10 years, 8.5 percent.

Superintendent candidates differ on boosting endowment payouts to schools

Idaho Education News surveyed the four GOP candidates for state Superintendent of Public Instruction on whether they favor boosting annual payments to schools from the state’s permanent endowment fund; two of the four said yes. “Recent history shows that the reserve fund has been adequate and that some boost could be made to K-12,” said John Eynon, a music and drama teacher from Grangeville. Andy Grover, superintendent of schools in Melba, said, “While I do not support shrinking reserve funds to levels that would put distributions in jeopardy, I believe that we can both increase the distribution to public schools while protecting our reserve fund and future generations of beneficiaries.”

American Falls middle school principal Randy Jensen warned against a big boost followed by a big drop: “A steady source is better than a rapid increase in one year with a decrease in the following years,” he told Idaho EdNews. And Mountain Home school administrator Sherri Ybarra said, “With the fund balance, the board is required to maintain a focus on future students, as well as current students to provide equity in funding as well as to minimize the unpredictability in payments.” You can read the full report here from reporter Kevin Richert; he also surveyed candidates for other offices that include service on the Land Board about land transfers and commercial property investments.

At least three of the four GOP rivals will face off in a debate tonight on KIVI Channel 6 at 6 p.m., which also will be streamed live at idahoonyourside.com. The superintendent candidates also will meet in a statewide debate May 8 on Idaho Public Television; the winner of the GOP primary will face Democrat Jana Jones in November.

Land Board accepts new cabin-site appraisals, lessees protest

In a special meeting today, Idaho’s state Land Board, which consists of the five top elected state officials and is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, voted to accept new values for state-owned cabin sites at Priest and Payette lakes on which renters have built and own their own cabins. New appraisals were done on 361 Priest Lake cabin sites and 16 at Payette Lake.

“As we’re all painfully aware, the 2013 valuations came in 84.9 percent higher than IDL’s 2012 valuations,” Denny Christenson, president of the Priest Lake State Lessees Association, told the board. “Lessees were astounded to see their values increase by that much during a time when their other real estate investments were declining in value.” But the new appraisals, he said, are 79 percent higher than the 2012 appraisals. That’s left lessees, he said, “with the same question they asked last year – how can these values be 79 percent higher than 2012 in a down market?”

The 2014 values vary considerably, and Christenson said the appraisers’ qualifications were much better this time around. Still, he said, “A large number of lessees continue to believe the appraised values are much too high and would not be supported on the open market.” Many will appeal, he said.

The values matter because they’re the basis for calculating rent on the land, and also are a starting point for auctions or other transactions in which cabin owners – or others – could have the opportunity to buy the land under the cabins from the state. The state has been working for several years to get out of the cabin-site renting business, in favor of other land investments that bring greater earnings to the beneficiaries of Idaho’s state endowment, the largest of which is the state’s public schools.

Lands official Patrick Hodges said based on the results of a meeting between the department and the Priest Lake lessees, “We’ve opened a two-week window after the appraisal numbers are approved by this board, to allow lessees to submit factual corrections.” That will be for errors in measurements and the like, he said, and such corrections will be made without having to go through a full appeal process.

Luna: Do endowment investment strategies short-change current students?

State schools Superintendent Tom Luna says he believes the state’s distribution and investment strategy for endowment funds is short-changing current public school students by focusing too much on future students. “Every year … we have 3,000 to 4,000 more students that we’re serving with that distribution,” he said. But the distribution has remained frozen at $31 million a year for five years, but for a one-time, extra $22 million distribution in 2010. “I think we need to take a hard look at if we’re sacrificing the benefit of the current beneficiary in the need to protect the future beneficiary,” Luna told the Land Board this morning. “We’ve accumulated a lot of cash and then our fund balances have increased … but the policies we have in place still haven’t resulted in the current beneficiaries seeing an increase. So I think they’re a bit out of whack.”

Luna noted that the state’s permanent endowment fund is invested 70 percent into volatile equities, and 30 percent into more secure bond funds. He said that’s appropriate for long-term funds, but said the earnings reserve funds, from which distributions are made, shouldn’t have the same split – they should be more secure, to guarantee distributions to schools and other endowment beneficiaries. Larry Johnson, endowment fund investment manager, responded, “I don’t think it would make much difference, because we’ve looked at this before. … We’ll certainly have an opportunity to look at it again.” He added, “We’re permanently intending to have reserves and a significant amount of reserves.”

The state is in the midst of an analysis of its investment strategies; Johnson said he’ll have results from that for the board in February.

Idaho endowment revenues strong for first half of year

Idaho’s state endowment lands, which make much of their money through timber sales, have had “a phenomenal year” for timber harvesting so far, state Lands Director Tom Schultz told the state Land Board this morning, “both harvest to date as well as revenue to date for timber sales.” Schultz said dry, cold conditions along with lots of salvage sales have meant “we’ve had a lot of wood that has moved in the last month,” Schultz said. “We’re already at about $43 million for cumulative receipts for the year. We’re at 152 percent of our five-year average in harvest volume at 200 million board feet, so we’re far eclipsing historical averages … for the first half of this year.”

Gov. Butch Otter, who chairs the Land Board, said the figures “tell a pretty good story.”

The state’s endowment fund reported earnings of 1.7 percent in November, for an 11.1 percent gain fiscal year to date at the end of the month, but investment manager Larry Johnson told the board, “Month to date in December, the market hasn’t been as kind to us,” with the fund losing about 1 percent. So fiscal year to date, since July 1, it’s up about 10 percent.

‘Big Ed’ Beckley sends big payment in to state, right on schedule

Idaho’s state Department of Lands received a payment of $943,000 today, right on schedule, from Beckley Media LLC, pursuant to a hotly contested auction last week for the rights to a two-year lease on state endowment lands that include the landing site of Evel Knievel’s unsuccessful 1974 motorcycle jump across the Snake River Canyon in Twin Falls – to allow for a re-try of the stunt as its 40th anniversary approaches. The payment came in by electronic fund transfer; Beckley already had paid the $25,000 first-year rent. All the money goes to the state’s public school endowment.

“The Idaho Department of Lands looks forward to working with winning bidder ‘Big Ed’ Beckley on his lease for use of state endowment trust lands for the purpose of re-creating Evel Knievel’s 1974 jump in September 2014,” said department spokeswoman Emily Callihan. In addition to the $968,000 Beckley now has paid to the state, there’ll be a second-year rent payment of $25,000 due, plus a percentage of proceeds including TV rights and sponsorships.

Knievel’s legacy a million-dollar boon to Idaho school kids

Motorcycle daredevil Evel Knievel never finished high school, but his stunt-jumping legacy could become a million-dollar boon for Idaho school kids. As the 40th anniversary of Knievel’s attempt to jump the Snake River Canyon on a rocket-powered motorcycle approaches, a flurry of interest from those who want to re-try the stunt has brought an unexpected windfall to Idaho schools. That’s because the state’s public school endowment owns the land on the rim of the canyon that includes the landing site – and after a hotly contested five-way auction last week, Texas motorcycle stuntman “Big Ed” Beckley won the rights to a two-year lease on the land for $943,000.

“We had Cheshire-cat grins on our faces, because it kept going up and up and up,” said Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa. “I was thinking, boy, that can buy a lot of books and stuff.” The $943,000 was just the “bonus” bid – the payment for the rights to the lease. The lease itself requires $25,000 in annual rent for two years, plus a percentage of proceeds including broadcast rights and sponsorships, to be paid over to the school endowment.

The best part for Idaho’s schools: The money gets paid, whether or not the jump comes off. Beckley’s already paid the first $25,000 annual rental fee; his $943,000 payment to the state is due Friday. You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Idaho endowment fund value hits all-time high

The value of Idaho’s state endowment fund hit an all-time high of $1.46 billion at the end of March, up 14 percent from the start of the fiscal year July 1. That’s partly because of strong investment returns this year – through yesterday, the fiscal year-to-date investment earnings show a 19 percent gain – and partly because of higher revenue from endowment trust lands, which was up 14 percent through the end of March compared to same nine months of the previous year.  The receipts: $59.5 million. Much of the land revenue comes from logging on endowment lands. (In April, the fund had more gains, bringing it to $1.48 billion as of April 30.)

The state Land Board was briefed on the fund’s gains today by the Endowment Fund Investment Board, and there were smiles all around.

Investment returns for Idaho’s endowment fund have averaged 6.7 percent for the past five years, a big turnaround from the precipitous drops the fund saw after the state first started investing it in the stock market in the early 2000s. The fund lost nearly 15 percent of its value from 2000 to 2002, going from $803.7 million to $683.2 million.

Land Board sets higher timber sale target for 2013 as prices improve

Idaho’s state Land Board approved a timber sale plan for 2014 today that calls for harvesting 249 million board feet from state endowment lands, the highest logging level in more than a decade. The state endowment land timber cut has been fixed at 247 million board feet for the last several years, but next year’s includes a one-time adjustment, due to various factors in certain regions, that bumps it up by 2 million. In 2002, the state's timber sale plan volume was less than 175 million board feet.

The board, which consists of the state’s top elected officials and is chaired by Gov. Butch Otter, unanimously adopted the plan; the state received only positive public comments on it, including enthusiastic support from Bennett Lumber Products, Idaho Forest Group and Stimson Lumber Co. in North Idaho.

“Last year almost one-third of all sawlog volume brought into our facility originated from Idaho Department of Lands timber sales,” wrote Tom Biltonen, resource manager for Bennett Lumber in Princeton. “The IDL timber sale program is a critical component of Bennett Lumber’s supply base and long term viability. We appreciate the efforts of the Idaho Department of Lands in supplying raw materials to the timber industry and the resulting support of our schools and other endowments.”

Last year’s state timber harvest, despite the high level of cut, actually brought in reduced receipts due to lower prices. This year, state Department of Lands Director Tom Schultz pointed to some good news on that score – two timber sales in March brought an average stumpage price of $400 per thousand board feet, up from recent years’ averages of $200 or less; the state is now averaging around $250. State forester David Groeschl said the economic downturn brought significant drops in prices starting in 2008; now, there’s a surge in demand and a shortage of timber on the market from private sources.  “Over the next couple of years we will see improved demand and improved stumpage prices,” Groeschl said. “I think overall, it’s going to continue to slowly improve.”

‘Remembering where this money’s going and who it’s supporting’

Idaho’s state Land Board heard a “year in review” presentation this morning culminating in the presentation of a giant facsimile of a check for $31,292,400 to high school students, made out to “Idaho’s Public Schools.” Capital High School choir students who attended the ceremony also performed earlier in the statehouse rotunda. State Lands Director Tom Schultz said it’s part of “remembering where this money’s going and who it’s supporting.” Idaho’s state endowment, including both endowment lands and the state’s permanent endowment fund, are a trust, with proceeds going to support specific beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state’s public schools. In the past year, the endowment distributed $46 million, with $31.3 million going to schools. Other endowment beneficiaries  include colleges and universities, state hospitals and prisons.

The year-in-review presentation highlighted a timber sale for 2012 of more than $50 million; the planting of nearly 1.5 million trees; the final stage of the “lot solutions” process to prepare state-owned cottage sites for future sale or exchange; and two land exchanges, one trading the McCall Outdoor Science School property for commercial property in Idaho Falls, and the Camas Prairie land exchange with Bennett Industries, which swapped 2,900 acres of timber land for 1,200 acres of highly productive farmland and 450 acres of timber land.

State lands staff also noted that though Idaho had one of its worst fire seasons in history, only half the 20-year average burned on state-protected wildlands.

Land Board set to consider land swap for UI McCall science campus

The land exchange that's at the heart of the University of Idaho's plan to take ownership of the lakeshore McCall Outdoor Science School campus it's leased from the state endowment for the past 65 years is up for approval by the state Land Board at its meeting tomorrow, which starts at 9 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium. Through the exchange, the 14-acre property adjacent to Ponderosa State Park would be swapped for an office building in Idaho Falls that currently - and still would after the exchange - houses the Battelle Energy Alliance LLC, the operating contractor for the Idaho National Laboratory. The office building is in a commercial business park called the Education Research Center, where INL's in-town operations have been consolidated since 2005.

State Lands Department staff estimates the two properties are of equal value, but the office building would bring the endowment a return of 8.25 percent of property value per year; the science campus currently brings in 4 percent of value, but historically has earned less than 2 percent of its value in annual rents.

Two members of the state Land Board, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and state Controller Brandon Woolf, recently held an open house in Idaho Falls to share information about the proposed swap. It's a step toward diversifying the endowment's land portfolio, which is mostly rangeland and timberland.

Today's unanimous Board of Education vote for the UI to buy the property was one step in the transaction; Land Board approval for the exchange would be the other.

State’s endowment investments having a good run

Idaho's state endowment investments grew by 2 percent in August, investment manager Larry Johnson reported to the state Land Board today, but it's gotten better since then, he said: “So far in September things have been very good - we've earned almost 3 percent for the month, so as of yesterday, our fiscal year-to-date returns were up to 6.6 percent.” That's up from a 3.4 percent gain for the fiscal year as of the end of August. On Aug. 31, the state's endowment fund was worth $1.3 billion.

No increase in endowment funds for Idaho’s public schools next year…

Idaho's state Land Board has voted unanimously to approve a recommendation from the state's Endowment Fund Investment Board for no increase in the distribution from the state endowment to public schools next year, holding schools at their current annual distribution level of $31.3 million. Larry Johnson, investment manager for the endowment fund, said the board recommended a 2.8 percent increase in total distributions from the endowment, based on earnings, but no increase for public schools and one other beneficiary, normal school, because their reserves are not yet at the target level, which is enough to cover five years' worth of distributions.

The board also recommended that $7.9 million from earnings reserves for six endowments be transferred into their permanent funds on Sept. 1, because those endowments, which include penitentiary and university, now have more than five years worth of distributions in their reserves. “The recommended distributions and transfers appear to be achievable and represent an appropriate balance between the interests of current and future beneficiaries, taking into account the current level of earnings reserves and expected future fund revenues,” Johnson said in his report to the Land Board.

The Idaho Constitution requires the state's endowment to be managed for maximum long-term returns to the beneficiaries, the largest of which is the state's public schools. With no discussion, Attorney General Lawrence Wasden moved to approve the recommendation, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously. State Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna wasn't at the meeting; he's out of state.

Land Board to update its asset management plan in wake of criticism

Idaho's state Land Board, which is chaired by the governor and includes the state Attorney General, Secretary of State, Controller and Superintendent of Public Instruction, voted unanimously today to begin crafting updates to its asset management plan for the state endowment, to reflect recent updates, such as the decision dispose of many lakefront cottage sites, and to “clarify desirable types of land investments.” Though board members continue to clash over the endowment's purchase last year of a self-storage business, which is operated for the state by a contractor - and criticism from some legislators and others that the endowment is competing with the private sector - all said they thought the updates were a good idea; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

“I for one believe that clarification in our overall plan is probably appropriate, to help us focus our thoughts and our actions and also … educate the public and the Legislature about what we're trying to accomplish,” said Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

Gov. Butch Otter said he thought the self-storage purchase was the first time the Land Board had “changed the character of our position” from simply being a landlord, to being “dependent on … profits and loss.” Deputy Lands Department Director Kathy Opp noted that there are other types of leases where the endowment gets a percentage of profits; the Tamarack Resort lease was one, she noted. Otter said that one included a base payment, with the percentage on top of that - and he's comfortable with that arrangement. “Then you have a posture of being the landlord,” he said. “You're not at risk.”

State Schools Supt. Tom Luna said he's concerned about impacts on local property taxes when the endowment purchases land in a particular county, city or school district; that property becoming publicly owned, and thus exempt from property taxes, would cause others in the same jurisdiction to pay more to make up the difference, he said. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa noted, “There are more taxes than property tax - there's income and sales taxes, and sometimes work on the endowment property impacts that area, too. … They go into the general fund, and a pretty high percentage goes to public schools.” He said, “You can't discuss that in a vacuum. … You've got to look at the whole picture.”

Some lawmakers, including House Majority Leader Mike Moyle, R-Star, have suggested that the endowment should make payments in lieu of taxes to local governments. But Otter said, “It's been pointed out again and again, the Constitution prohibits us from doing that.” He said he was interested in exploring some type of “mechanism” to allow something along those lines, but that'd likely take a constitutional amendment. Wasden noted that when the endowment buys property in one jurisdiction, it typically sells or trades away property in another jurisdiction - so any property tax impact in one is balanced by the opposite impact in the other.

The Lands Department will work on the updates to the asset management plan and coordinate with all the Land Board members and their staffs, and present them to the board at its November meeting.

State endowment fund had a ‘tough’ month in August, but distributions still ‘well secured’

The month of August was “a tough one for the endowment,” state endowment fund investment manager Larry Johnson reported to the state Land Board this morning, with a loss of 4.5 percent for the month, for a total loss for the fiscal year, since July 1, of 5.3 percent. “All of our managers are performing about as you would expect them to in this environment,” Johnson said. Distributions from the fund for fiscal year 2012 remain “well secured,” Johnson said.

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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

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