A logical subject for hearings, and maybe legislation, when Idaho lawmakers convene in January: Deciding what Idaho's endowment property policy should be. question: Should it be fungible?
When Idaho gained statehood in 1890, it got 3.6 million acres to be used for support of certain public institutions, mainly schools. The restriction was that they be managed “in such manner as will secure the maximum longer term financial return.” The job of directly managing the property was given to the State Land Board, which includes the governor and four other statewide electeds.
For many years governing these lands, widely scattered and often timber lands, was straightforward. Many were managed as timber properties, sometimes as leasable livestock grazing territory.
But what if the highest long-range return isn't managing the lands this way? What if, as Idaho moves beyond a resource-based economy, other ways of generating income are more profitable? Should the lands be considered fungible – translatable into money, or into other sorts of money-making property?
The question is not entirely new. About a third of the endowment lands were sold in Idaho's first half-century as a state, the money placed in an endowment fund. (Those sales have diminished, though exchanges have continued.) But more recently another development has caught interest: Acquiring private property as a money-making venture.
There are gray areas. Private companies have, since before statehood, managed their lands as timber property around Idaho, and some still do, so there's no bright line between public and private in that field either. Still, when news broke a couple of years back that the state owned and operated a rental storage building – in effect, private-type business – attention was paid. Should the state be so overtly in competition with private businesses? Is that what the endowment lands were intended to do? (more…)