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Eye on Boise: Idaho parks board picks new director

BOISE – Idaho is getting a new state parks chief, and a Democrat is joining GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s Cabinet.

David Langhorst, a former Democratic state senator from Boise and a current state tax commissioner, was selected as the new parks director by the state Parks and Recreation Board; he’ll start work Monday, replacing the retiring Nancy Merrill.

“I’m way excited,” Langhorst said. “I don’t think of myself as a partisan player. I see myself as a public servant in a public trust position. And I’m grateful that I’ve been able to work with both sides of the aisle in all of my public service roles.”

Idaho has 18 state department directors. Langhorst becomes the second open and identified Democrat among them. According to Otter spokesman Mark Warbis, Juvenile Corrections Director Sharon Harrigfeld – whom Otter appointed – also is a Democrat.

Otter, who earlier appointed Langhorst to the Tax Commission, hailed his appointment as parks director. “He understands the premium that I put on living within our means and bringing business principles to running our state agencies,” the governor said. “As a former legislator, he understands the political process. And he is passionate about serving the people of Idaho.”

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 earn the same salary as Merrill: $91,562 a year.

Transition for parole board

Olivia Craven, executive director of the state Commission of Pardons and Parole since 1984, is retiring in mid-August, and Otter has named her replacement: Sandy Jones, who now heads up jail re-entry programs and alternative sentencing for the Ada County Sheriff’s Office.

Pardons and 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 monitor offenders on probation and parole better while reserving prison cells for the more dangerous criminals. The hope is to save millions in costs to build new prisons. 

“Almost everyone in our prisons eventually gets out,” Jones said. “I am a re-entry person, so I’m looking forward to being a part of making the justice reinvestment reforms and our supervision system work.”

Big budget surplus

Year-end state tax revenue figures show that Idaho ended up with $7.2 million more than forecast 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 surplus. That $44.4 million figure is $17.6 million greater 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; $5.9 million from other agencies; and $1.6 million in other year-end adjustments, all adding to the surplus.

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 still would leave more than $26 million from the surplus.

An additional reversion from Medicaid also is expected to boost the total in August or September.

Staffers to leave insurance exchange

Idaho’s health insurance exchange,, is losing two of its top staffers. Executive Director Amy Dowd is leaving to become CEO of the New Mexico Health Insurance Exchange, and Alberto Gonzalez, operations project manager and a former bureau chief for the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare, is leaving for a consulting firm.

Steven Weeg, chairman of the board of the Idaho exchange, said the board will work with Dowd, Gonzalez and the rest of the staff on a transition plan. Dowd was hired in 2013 and hired Gonzalez shortly afterward.