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State parks look to corporate sponsors as additional funding source

Idaho’s state parks system is looking for corporate sponsors for signs, brochures, group picnic shelters and the like, as part of its effort to make the parks system largely pay for itself, state Parks Director David Langhorst told lawmakers this morning. “We would hope to be able to acknowledge their donations on signage, printed materials and so forth,” Langhorst told the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee during his budget presentation. “While this kind of activity isn’t prohibited in state code, it isn’t expressly allowed.” So at the suggestion of the Idaho Attorney General’s office, the parks department will be proposing legislation this year to specifically authorize such arrangements.

“We’ve got a goal for $20,000 the first year,” he said. Already, Airstream is working with the state to produce a 50th Anniversary Idaho State Parks-model trailer in the coming year; $500 from each sale would go to the department, and the trailer’s interior would be decorated in a theme tied to Idaho’s parks. “We’ve been trying to be creative,” Langhorst said. “There are many companies that really like parks, and they see some value in partnering with us.” You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

He pointed to precedents in public higher ed in Idaho, like Nike swooshes on college sports players’ uniforms and BSU’s Albertson Stadium and Taco Bell Arena. But Langhorst said the program would not include selling naming rights to Idaho’s 30 state parks. “The park names are pretty historic,” he said. He noted that in Montana, Subway has underwritten TV ads promoting state parks.

Idaho’s state Department of Parks and Recreation currently get just $3.5 million in state funds, about 6 percent of its budget.  Other funds come from fees, sales and charges; grants; a small slice of state gas taxes; and registration fees collected on boats, snowmobiles, motorbikes, ATVs, and RV's. In fiscal year 2008, the department was allocated nearly $18 million in state general funds.

Langhorst named state parks chief

Current Idaho state tax commissioner and former state Sen. David Langhorst, D-Boise, has been named the new director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. 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 start Aug. 4, replacing Nancy Merrill, who has served as director since 2009. Idaho has 30 state parks, in addition to numerous recreational programs and trails.

Langhorst, a former commercial real estate appraiser, served in the state House from 2002 to 2004 and in the Senate from 2004 to 2008, rising to minority leader; he was appointed to the state Tax Commission in July of 2009. He's been a high school teacher, a hunter safety instructor, and an active member of sportsmen's and wildlife groups. Click below for the department's full announcement.

Idaho tax collectors seek computer system upgrade, say problems fixed

Idaho needs to invest $5.2 million for a major computer upgrade in its tax collection system, state tax officials say, and it'll pay off big not far down the road. The upgrade, which state tax commissioners plan to pitch to lawmakers in January, could pay for itself within its first full year of operation, officials estimate, by allowing the state to better pursue fraudulent returns and tax lien debt.

The proposal comes as the state's four-member Tax Commission has been working to boost public confidence and employee morale, two years after a former director resigned amid scandal and charges that the commission was cutting secret deals with influential taxpayers. Current Chairman David Langhorst, a Democrat, said the commission is working toward "a more open and transparent way of doing business, and better communication within our own ranks." The Tax Commission assessed its status and outlook at its annual meeting today; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

GOP Gov. Otter has a Dem-led agency

For the past three months, one of Republican Idaho Gov. Butch Otter's departments has been headed by a Democrat and overseen by a majority-Democrat commission. It's the state Tax Commission, which is constitutionally required to have four commissioners, with not more than two of them from the same party. But since GOP commission Chairman Bob Geddes resigned in February, Democratic Commissioner David Langhorst has been the interim chairman, and the fourth commission seat remains vacant. That leaves the commission with two Democrats and one Republican.

"David Langhorst is doing a great job right now," said Otter's spokesman, Jon Hanian. "We have not named anybody else at the moment; he's continuing to serve in that capacity." Langhorst, a former Democratic state senator from Boise whom Otter first appointed to the commission in 2009, said, "These positions are public trust positions - they're not political." You can read my full story here at spokesman.com.