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Idaho Gov. Brad Little worried vetoing Transportation Department budget would jeopardize money for bridge repairs

Idaho Gov. Brad Little gives his State of the State speech in the house chambers of the State Capitol building on Jan. 8.  (Otto Kitsinger/Idaho Capital Sun)
By Clark Corbin Idaho Capital Sun

BOISE – Idaho Gov. Brad Little told reporters Thursday that he did not veto a new transportation budget that blocks the state’s sale of the Idaho Transportation Department’s former Boise headquarters because he worried about jeopardizing $200 million in state funding for road and bridge repairs.

Instead of vetoing it at the very end of the recent 2024 legislative session, Little let House Bill 770 become law without his signature.

House Bill 770 is a $592 million transportation budget bill that included $200 million to repair and replace local bridges across the state. The same budget also included budget language revoking the state’s authority to sell the Idaho Transportation Department’s former headquarters located at 3311 State St. in Boise, canceling a $51.7 million sale.

“A veto … might have jeopardized two of the big things I talked about in my State of the State (address), which was local roads and bridges and safety enhancements,” Little said Thursday morning during a breakfast news conference at Boise State University. “So it was a calculated risk.”

Instead of vetoing the bill, Little wrote a transmittal letter April 10 in which he informed House Speaker Mike Moyle, R-Star, that he would allow the bill to become law but would not sign the bill because he believed it “unfairly cancels and agreed upon sales process, causing future reputational risk for the State of Idaho.”

The controversy over the Idaho Transportation Department’s former Boise headquarters was partially responsible for delaying adjournment of the 2024 legislative session and led the would-be buyers of the State Street property to file a lawsuit against the state last week in the Idaho Supreme Court.

Officials with Hawkins Companies previously told the Sun in a written statement that they followed all of the state’s purchasing laws and submitted the highest bid for the State Street property in an open, competitive bidding process.

On Monday, the Idaho Supreme Court issued an order requiring the state to issue a response to the suit within 14 days. In the order, the court indicated it would expedite the case after the buyers’ attorneys asked the Idaho Supreme Court to act as quickly as possible because the new transportation budget is set to take effect July 1.

A timeline of the proposed sale of the Idaho Transportation Department’s headquarters

The Idaho Transportation Department’s former headquarters flooded and was contaminated with asbestos in January 2022, the Idaho Press reported. After that, the Idaho Transportation Department’s board voted to declare the building surplus property and put the entire 45-acre parcel up for public auction.

In November state officials told the Idaho Legislature’s Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee that the state sold the property to Hawkins Companies, The Pacific Companies and FJ Management for $51.7 million, the Idaho Capital Sun previously reported.

The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is a powerful legislative committee that sets the entire state budget. On March 1 , members of JFAC decided to reverse the state’s course on the State Street property.

JFAC passed a transportation budget that revokes the state’s authority to sell the State Street property and provided $32.5 million to renovate the property, instead of the requested $56.3 million to relocate the Idaho Transportation Department to a different state-owned property and furnish a new headquarters.

The issue of blocking the sale divided the Idaho Legislature, but the last major bill legislators passed before adjourning the annual legislative session last month was the transportation budget that blocked the sale, which Little then allowed to become law without his signature.

On April 25, the would-be buyers of the State Street property filed suit against the state in the Idaho Supreme Court, asking the court to issue an order requiring the state to complete the sale of the property.

Idaho Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, the nation’s largest state-focused nonprofit news organization.