Idaho


Timing of Denney committee tour raises eyebrows

SUNDAY, AUG. 31, 2014

The Federal Lands Interim Committee, a joint legislative interim committee co-chaired by Rep. Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, and Sen. Chuck Winder, R-Boise, has scheduled a seventh public hearing, this one in Sandpoint on Sept. 12. That’s in addition to the six already scheduled during the next two months, including Sept. 11 in Kamiah and St. Maries; Oct. 9 in Idaho Falls and Soda Springs; and Oct. 10 in Twin Falls and Hailey.

The swing around the state already has prompted a “jeer” from the Lewiston Tribune’s editorial page that Denney “just happens to be making a series of statewide swings at taxpayer expense, right in the middle of campaign season, including stops next month in Kamiah and St. Maries.” Denney, former speaker of the House and current House resources chairman, is running for Idaho secretary of state; he faces Democrat Holli Woodings in the November election.

Denney said, “We thought that it was important that the people have their say in what they think about the state taking over title to the federal lands. And that was certainly always the plan – last year was to be fact-finding, this year was more public hearing.”

Winder, Denney’s co-chairman, said, “We have to report back to the 2015 session. So in trying to coordinate schedules, it was very difficult to get anybody to where we could get like two days together, actually going back to July or August.” Denney said the pre-election timing “wasn’t my choice,” saying, “I would like to have started way earlier, because it’s going to take time away from me right when I think I need it most in the campaign. … I think it was just logistics.”

Asked why the panel is heading to small towns like Soda Springs, Kamiah and St. Maries, Denney said, “A lot of the people who want to come and testify are from these more rural areas, and why make them travel? … They always have to travel.”

Winder said the Sandpoint session was added at the request of Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who said her constituents “felt like it was too far to go to St. Maries to testify.”

The panel is charged, during its two years, to “undertake and complete a study of the process for the state of Idaho to acquire title to and control of public lands controlled by the federal government.” It’s already spent more than $41,000 on legal fees for Bill Myers, a Boise attorney and former solicitor general for the Department of the Interior, whom it hired to advise it.  

Winder said, “We’re already pretty confident that from a legal perspective, we don’t stand on very firm ground if it were a matter of litigating. But we do think there are alternatives available to us in existing laws and potential for congressional changes in how the states interact with the federal agencies that manage public lands. … We think it’s worth the effort.”

Not named after all

Idaho state Commerce Director Jeff Sayer apologized last week for promising that the first recipient of Idaho’s generous new tax reimbursement incentive would be made public at an Economic Development Council meeting at which the council approved a 25 percent tax break for the firm – and then taking it back.

“I screwed up,” Sayer told Eye on Boise. “That wasn’t the agreement we made with the company.”

The council approval was only preliminary, Sayer said; if the company accepts the offer for the tax incentive, a final agreement still would have to be negotiated. Once that’s approved, all aspects of the deal would become public, he said.

“Today we are respecting the wishes of the company,” he said. “There are going to be situations where we give that approval only to have the company tell us ‘Thanks but no thanks; we’ve chosen another state.’ ” That’s apparently not the case here, however.

“When an agreement is signed and a company does decide to choose Idaho, you’ll see us be completely transparent,” Sayer said. The information will be posted on a Commerce Department website, he said. “All of those details will be on the table.”

The information that Commerce released about the deal says “Project Sky” is a project to build an aerospace maintenance facility in Ada County that would hire 50 full-time employees in 2015, with benefits, and expand to 100 during the next 12 years, with an average annual wage of $52,000. The council voted to offer a 25 percent rebate of the firm’s sales, payroll and corporate income taxes for 12 years; the new incentive law allows up to 30 percent for up to 15 years.

Though Commerce decided not to name the airline, the Boise Weekly reported that it is SkyWest, which has applied to the city of Boise for permits to build the facility. Contacted by the Associated Press, SkyWest would not comment on whether it had applied for the tax break.

Reporter Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at betsyr@spokesman.com or (208) 336-2854.


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