Stung state lawmakers are parting with the Otter Administration on the IEN mess, after a judge last week reaffirmed that the state’s $60 million contract for a broadband network that links every Idaho high school was issued illegally. The state immediately filed a notice of appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court, but the high court already ruled against the state in a strongly worded earlier ruling in the case.
Lawmakers aren’t enthusiastic about the Otter Administration’s proposal for a one-year “bridge contract” to get a new state contract in place to offer exactly the same services the Idaho Education Network was offering, broadband connections and video conferencing. The 2009 contract with politically-connected vendors Education Networks of American and Qwest Communications, now Century Link, looks less attractive six years later, with many school districts not using the pricey video conferencing equipment.
“We have to hit the reset button. We have to do it by legal means,” said Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert. House Appropriations Chairwoman Maxine Bell, R-Rupert, said, “I think we should separate ourselves from anything contractual at this point, and let that air clear.” And Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, Senate Finance vice-chair, said, “We’ve been hearing from school districts that they might be able to get the services less expensively than what we have been paying.” You can read my full Sunday column here at spokesman.com.
Meanwhile, the Idaho Falls Post Register published a story over the weekend reporting that Cameron’s predicting a 90 percent chance that the existing IEN will “go dark” before the end of this month; you can read that report here.
Also from this Sunday's papers: The Idaho Statesman reports that a tax deal is in the works in the House to raise the sales tax to 7 percent while dedicating much of the increase to transportation; eliminate the sales tax on groceries; and dump Idaho’s graduated income tax brackets in favor of a 6.6 percent flat rate, lowering the rate for top earners while raising it for the lower-income. The idea is to come up with a big boost in transportation funding while also cutting income tax rates for top earners and minimizing impact on the state's general fund. Statesman reporter Bill Dentzer’s full report is online here.