Posts tagged: Idaho state endowment
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.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Associated Press reporter John Miller reports that Reps. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, and John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, are planning to work on revised legislation to limit the state Land Board's endowment land investments, out of concern over competition with the private sector. “There's clearly an area where we can legislate,” Burgoyne told Miller after two days of hearings on the issue concluded Tuesday in the Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee. “I think House Bill 188 is going to have to be reworded,” VanderWoude said. “But it's going to be something similar to that.” That bill sought to place limits on the state Land Board's management of endowment lands, including requiring that “all business operations located on or using said land, shall be sold to private persons;” it didn't pass. Click below for Miller's full report.
Lawmakers on the Natural Resources Interim Committee have raised an array of questions about management of state endowment lands. Among them: Sen. Jeff Siddoway, R-Terreton, asked state Superintendent of Schools Tom Luna if Idaho might not have been better off to sell some of the endowment land when values were soaring, “if some of that land could've been liquidated,” and give the money to schools. Luna said no. “I do not think it's wise to sell any of the assets to the endowment and distribute the money made off of that sale,” he said. “I think through proper management, we … take the money we've earned from that sale and invest it in other hopefully higher-profit generating ventures that then generate more revenue for the endowment. … If it means distributing the corpus, then I don't think that's wise.” Luna said some states have taken that route in the past “to the point where they have nothing left.”
House Majority Leader Mike Moyle noted that the federal government pays PILT, or payments in lieu of taxes, to local communities for some federally owned land, and Idaho's Fish & Game Department now makes such payments when it purchases formerly private land and takes it off the tax rolls; a constitutional amendment authorized that. He suggested the endowment should look at something similar if it acquires property that formerly was private.
Rep. John VanderWoude, R-Nampa, said the state endowment's commercial property has seen its value drop from $45 million in 2007 to $36 million in 2010, and he said his calculations show the property's bringing in a return of just 2 percent of its value per year for the state. “It seems like that investment's going south,” he said. Secretary of State Ben Ysursa noted that “the commercial property and the value of it goes with the market, and of course goes down if in fact commercial real estate has gone down.” He noted, “I think taking snapshots is maybe a little bit unfair, as to how this is working. I think maybe you have to look at the long term on all this.” He added, however, “I am concerned - you brought up some good points, and I'm going to ask those same questions myself.”
Idaho Secretary of State Ben Ysursa told the Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee today that after watching the process for the past 37 years, “I think we're at an interesting intersection, crossroads … of the three branches of government dealing with endowment property.” The executive branch, through the Land Board, manages the endowment. “We have the legislative branch who wants to know, and they're good questions, how far can they go in putting up sideboards on what we can do.” And then, the judicial branch is weighing in: A decision is pending from the Idaho Supreme Court on whether a section of state law regarding not holding conflict auctions for endowment-owned cottage sites is constitutional. “The folks at the Supreme Court are going to have an opportunity to give us all some more guidance, I think, fairly quickly,” Ysursa said. “We are going to get some more guidance from the State Supreme Court … on how far can the Legislature set the sideboards.”
He said, “I think the real evolution I've seen in the 37 years is that we don't wear two hats, we wear one hat.” Court decision after court decision has come down telling the state that it can't consider other interests in managing endowment land, such as the health of the state's grazing industry or even the general public interest; it has to focus solely on getting the maximum long-term return for the endowment's beneficiaries, the largest of which is the public schools. “As a trustee, I totally understand the furor over some of our recent decisions and where some of our investments are,” Ysursa said. “We're at an intersection. You have your interests as a legislative body. We certainly have ours as the executive branch, and very shortly the judicial branch will give us some more guidance. And I welcome this. … I welcome and need legislative input, we need input from beneficiaries, to provide constructive alternatives.”
Former state Controller J.D. Williams told lawmakers today, “Every dollar that we can make for these endowment lands and the trust fund is a dollar that does not have to come from taxpayers. The more we make, the more it grows and the less taxes have to be collected.” Williams said when he was first elected as state controller and to a seat on the state Land Board, he went to a conference of lands commissioners from other states, and found that some were making 10 times what Idaho was from its endowment lands, and using the money to fund schools and other needs. That concern was part of the driving force behind the endowment reforms initiated in the 1990s and approved by voters as an amendment to the state constitution, Williams said.
“Talk to Gov. Batt about this - endowment reform was led by Gov. Batt, without him it would not have occurred,” he said. A major piece of the reform allowed the endowment fund to be invested into higher-earning but riskier investments, such as the stock market, rather than just in low-return bonds; it also allowed the funds and land to be managed together; and called for diversifying the portfolio of land investments, including exchanging away lower-yield land such as cottage sites and grazing land, for higher-yielding land, from timber land to commercial property.
Williams said much of the commercial property that was acquired was in the immediate vicinity of the state capitol. “I thought it made a lot of sense to diversify the portfolio and we would also protect the vicinity of the capitol for further generations,” he said, noting that some states have ended up with their state capitols in deteriorated or unsuitable areas. Williams noted that when he was first elected state controller in 1990, the state endowment was worth $320 million. “When I left in 2002 it was worth almost $600 million, almost double in 13 years. Today … it's worth $1.2 billion. It's doubled again in nine years. As Ronald Reagan said many times … if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I think they're on the right track.”
The Legislature's Natural Resources Interim Committee is taking a course in “Trust Law 101,” starting with a presentation from University of Idaho professor and author Jay O'Laughlin. Idaho's state endowment is a trust for which the Land Board holds a fiduciary duty, O'Laughlin told lawmakers. That means they must manage the trust's assets for the sole benefit of the trust beneficiaries - mainly public schools, but also the University of Idaho and other state institutions - not for the general public. “It is a fact that trust businesses have always competed with the private sector,” O'Laughlin said. “The underlying issue here is determining the appropriate business enterprises from which to maximize income from the endowment assets.”
The panel also is hearing today from University of Idaho constitutional law professor Dennis Colson; current and former state Land Board members; representatives of the trust beneficiaries; and more. Tomorrow, the joint committee will hear about the management of the trust's current assets, from the state's permanent endowment fund to timber and grazing land to cottage sites. The committee is meeting in room EW 42 of the state Capitol; live audio from its meetings is being streamed live here.
The discussion follows the introduction of HB 188 in this year's Legislature by Rep. Bob Schaefer, R-Nampa, which sought to place limits on the state Land Board's management of endowment lands, including requiring that “all business operations located on or using said land, shall be sold to private persons.” The measure, which didn't pass either house, was co-sponsored by five other state lawmakers.
The Natural Resources Interim Committee includes 10 state lawmakers from both houses, plus eight more lawmakers from both houses who serve as ad hoc members. Colson, an expert on Idaho's state constitution, shared the history of the endowment and constitutional requirements with the lawmakers. “The idea was that the endowment was directly related to keeping taxes low for public schools,” he said.