Here's my full column from Sunday's Spokesman-Review:
BOISE – Idaho Rep. Raul Labrador is the sixth-poorest member of Congress, according to a comparison by InsideGov.com of politicians’ average net worth.
Labrador is one of 20 House members and one senator with a negative worth; in his case, it’s negative $216,000.
Congressional financial disclosure forms report asset values in ranges, and the “average net worth” is calculated by using the high and low figures in those ranges, so they’re very rough estimates.
Labrador’s negative net worth is far eclipsed by the poorest member, Rep. David Valadao, R-Calif., whose $25 million-plus in debt stems from a family dairy farm that his father started in 1973.
The site ranked Idaho Sen. Jim Risch the 18th-richest member of Congress, with an average net worth of $53.4 million.
Labrador’s most recent financial disclosure reports a modest IRA and bank account, a mortgage on his Eagle home, a line of credit from Zions Bank for between $100,000 and $250,000, and between $10,000 and $15,000 still to pay on his student loans.
Interestingly, Labrador’s Democratic challenger, James Piotrowski – who, like Labrador, is an attorney – also reports that he’s still paying off student loans. He reported assets including an interest in his law firm, stocks and business property, and debt including a mortgage on the business property and credit card and student loan debt of between $15,000 and $50,000 each, for an average net worth of just under half a million dollars.
Congressional financial disclosure forms don’t include the value of a primary residence, so that depresses the average net worth figures. They don’t require reporting of the amount of a spouse’s salary, but do require reporting the source. Labrador reported that his wife receives a salary from his campaign, Labrador for Idaho; Piotrowski reported that his wife receives a salary from the state of Idaho.
Labrador also reported receiving a free trip to Israel for himself and his family in October 2015 from Proclaiming Justice to the Nations Inc., a Christian group that supports Israel on religious grounds.
Members of Congress are paid $174,000 a year in salary.
Luring tourists with VR
Idaho’s state tourism office has launched a series of “virtual reality” videos to give viewers a chance to virtually raft the Payette River, zip-line in the Snake River Canyon, go paddleboarding and BASE jumping, bike the Boise Greenbelt and experience a whitewater kayak competition, among other Idaho experiences. The tourism division of the Idaho Department of Commerce partnered with 360 Immersive LLC of Boise to produce the 360-degree videos, which allow viewers to vary their viewpoint 360 degrees, left, right, down or up.
“We’re excited to be a part of this emerging technology, to give people who’ve never done these activities the opportunity to feel what it is like, and to let the world know that Idaho is an exciting place to visit,” said Diane Norton, Idaho Tourism manager.
The videos can be viewed on smartphones, tablets, laptop or desktop computers; they also can be viewed through a VR viewer or head-mounted display for a “more immersive VR experience.”
Jennifer Lastra, CEO of 360 Immersive, said, “We created these VR experiences to allow people to take control and see for themselves what makes Idaho a great place to visit. VR is a new medium of storytelling that will transform human experiences.”
You can see the videos online at visitidaho.org, under “Explore Idaho.”
In-state grads likely to stay, work in Idaho
Seventy-seven percent of Idaho residents who graduated from in-state public colleges or universities from 2010 to 2014 were employed in Idaho a year later, according to a new research report from the Idaho Department of Labor and the Office of the State Board of Education; and five years later, 67 percent still were employed in Idaho.
Among out-of-state students attending Idaho colleges or universities, 39 percent were employed in Idaho a year after they graduated; that number fell to 28 percent five years after graduation.
North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene had the highest retention rate for its out-of-state graduates, of whom 62 percent were employed in Idaho a year after they graduated, though that figure fell to 44 percent by the end of their fourth year after graduation.
“Access to a skilled workforce is the No. 1 challenge Idaho businesses face,” said state Department of Labor Director Ken Edmunds. “Retaining a pipeline of college graduates from Idaho, other states and abroad is critical for bridging existing skills gaps and providing employers with the talent they need to compete and thrive in today’s economy.”
The research was made possible by comparing data from Idaho’s State Longitudinal Data System, employment records and other data from the Office of the State Board of Education and state colleges and universities; a federal grant helped fund the collaborative research project. Its findings documented an “affinity and attachment to Idaho” among in-state students who attend public colleges or universities here, one that persists even five years after graduation.