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Eye on Boise: Idaho’s dimmer economic outlook mirrors nation’s

Sun., Nov. 6, 2011

BOISE – Idaho’s new economic forecast is out, and it’s a gloomier outlook than the state’s last forecast in July – though it still predicts growth.

The change comes mainly because national forecasts have cooled, raising the likelihood that the national economy could slip into a recession from 25 percent in July to 40 percent in October.

“The outlook for Idaho’s economy has also darkened somewhat,” Idaho’s chief economist, Derek Santos, wrote in the new forecast. “Instead of shifting into higher gear in the first half of 2011, job growth slipped into neutral. As a result, there were fewer jobs in the second quarter of 2011 than in the fourth quarter of 2010.”

That has downgraded job-growth forecasts going several years out, Santos noted, though growth still is predicted.

Santos is predicting that over the next few years, computer and electronics employment in Idaho will be relatively stable, while logging and wood products employment will rise 6.5 percent this year, decline slightly next year, then grow more the following two years.

Construction jobs are predicted to drop through 2012, then begin growing very slowly the following two years; durable goods manufacturing jobs are expected to recover in 2011 what they lost in 2010; and service jobs are expected to grow.

Comment period on energy plan extended

The Idaho Legislature’s Interim Committee on Energy, Environment and Technology has decided to extend the public comment period on updates to the 2007 Idaho Energy Plan to Nov. 18, after two days of hearings last week drew numerous comments, both written and verbal.

The joint committee is wrestling with negative reactions from an array of parties to changes in the plan proposed by the industry-dominated board of the Idaho Strategic Energy Alliance. Those changes include reducing energy efficiency and conservation from the “highest priority” to just “a priority,” and taking out support for local-option taxes for transit. Numerous task forces of the alliance developed a draft that had more widespread support before the board made the final changes.

Comments can be emailed to, or mailed to the Energy, Environment & Technology Interim Committee, Legislative Services Office, Statehouse, Boise, ID 83720-0054.

The lawmakers also have been fielding requests to establish a consumer advocate in Idaho’s utility rate-setting process, something most states have, but Idaho lacks.

Rep. George Eskridge, R-Dover, said he’s leaning against including that in the energy plan, and thinks it should be addressed separately by the Legislature. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, proposed such legislation in 2001 and 2002, but it failed after utilities and the Idaho Public Utilities Commission opposed it.

“I don’t know what kind of traction it might have,” Eskridge said. “Obviously I don’t think the utilities are very fond of it, so I would expect them to oppose it.” In other states, the consumer advocate’s office often is funded by fees on utilities; the Idaho PUC has maintained its staff already covers that role. But Eskridge said, “That may be one of the problems – they’re trying to look out for everybody. Everybody except the residential ratepayer has pretty strong advocates.”

Eskridge said he remains undecided on the issue. “I really want to dig into just how effective the PUC is, in advocating or trying to establish rate approval based on a pretty independent analysis. But by the same token, we have to admit that the big industries and the irrigators have some pretty strong advocates.”

He offered an example: It was Monsanto Corp. official Trent Clark who requested the extension in the public comment period, though he’d been at previous meetings and was well aware of the previous public comment deadline of last Friday.

“Then a day before the comment period closes, we have a large industrial customer coming in with a plea to extend the comment period,” Eskridge said. “I’m not being critical, but that shows how effective an advocate for a large industry can be. So we’ll see where it all goes.”

Former Cain aide joins Labrador staff

Freshman Idaho congressman Raul Labrador has hired a new communications director: Ellen Carmichael, who most recently served as the chief spokeswoman and communications director for Herman Cain‘s presidential campaign, a position she held for more than a year.

Carmichael, who is from Baton Rouge, La., previously worked as a political consultant, including serving as Louisiana coordinator for Americans for Prosperity. She said of her new employer, “I am honored to serve such an unwavering conservative whose work to renew the American dream has only just begun.”

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