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Eye on Boise: Backup legislators set to substitute

When the Idaho Legislature convenes on Monday, it’ll have two unaccustomed faces in its midst: substitutes designated by North Idaho lawmakers to fill in for them short-term due to health concerns.

Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, has designated his wife, Cathyanne Nonini, to substitute for him through Jan. 15. Rep. Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, has designated North Idaho businessman John Chambers, a semi-retired executive at Ground Force Manufacturing, to fill in for him for up to two weeks.

Nonini has been recuperating from a serious infection. “He’s planning on coming back around the 15th,” Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said.

Henderson broke his hip during a recent vacation mishap in Hawaii and hoped to be recovered enough to make the session’s first day, but decided he needed a little more time. “It turns out I recovered so fast, one week would’ve been plenty,” he said Thursday. “Right now, I’m doing great.”

Henderson said Chambers is “a very experienced, executive type person,” who just returned from Peru, where Ground Force built a manufacturing plant. “When he gets done sitting in for me, he’s going to Australia to build another factory down there. … Because he’s semi-retired, he had time available.”

Henderson, 91, is a fifth-term state representative, and is also a former Kootenai County commissioner and former mayor of Post Falls.

Nonini, 59, is a first-term senator who previously served four terms in the House, including a stint as House Education Committee chairman.

Marriage challenge

House Speaker Scott Bedke, Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill and Gov. Butch Otter all pledged Friday to defend Idaho’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage from a legal challenge. Otter said Idaho voters enacted the measure into the constitution and the state has a duty to defend that enactment. “My responsibility is to enforce the law and to obey the constitution,” Otter said.

Four same-sex couples are now challenging the ban as unconstitutional in federal court.

Hill said, “Is it a wise use of funds? It’s always a wise use of funds to defend our constitution.” He said both the governor and the attorney general have that duty, something the parties in the case have disputed. Attorney General Lawrence Wasden has filed to intervene as a party. The lawsuit was filed against Otter and Ada County Clerk Chris Rich, who denied marriage licenses to the same-sex couples.

Not too hot or cold

Three Idaho university economists – Scott Benson of Idaho State University, Don Holley of Boise State University and Eric Stuen of the University of Idaho – have developed a forecast for state general fund tax revenues for the next three years, and it calls for growth. After actual growth of 6.3 percent in general fund revenues in fiscal year 2013, the university economists are predicting 5.6 percent revenue growth this year, fiscal year 2014; 5.6 percent again next year, in fiscal 2015; and 4.7 percent in fiscal 2016.

“I think it’s an optimistic but not overly optimistic number,” Benson told the Legislature’s joint economic outlook committee late last week. “We know that times are improving but they’re not great; we’re not back at growth rate in general fund revenue close to double digits, nor is there time to say well, we’d better batten down the hatches and hunker in because things aren’t going to be all that good. They are improving. … I think the economy is poised to continue growing and support these growth rates.”

Benson and Holley were at the Statehouse for the presentation. As he began, Benson joked, “If we’re accurate in this forecast, then Boise State and Idaho State will take credit – if we’re wrong, then we’ll blame the University of Idaho.”

Benson noted that one area where Idaho has continued to lag is in wages.  “Idaho has been near the bottom of the average wage per job, and we continue to stay there,” he said.

Overall, he said, “Yes, we know there are headwinds. We think the state is on this upward trend and going to recover. … We’re seeing continued growth, a moderating growth, because the state is getting back to its trend rate of growth, and in a low-inflation world, that trend rate of growth ought to be slower.”

When Rep. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, questioned why things seem so glum economically when the trend lines are up, Benson said it’s a matter of comparison to the recent boom times. “This is the just-right economy – not too hot, and not too cold,” he said.

Betsy Z. Russell can be reached at or (208) 336-2854. Follow the Eye on Boise blog at

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