idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The departure of Duane Nellis as president of the University of Idaho has kicked in a nationwide search for a replacement, standard procedure these days for filling such jobs as university presidents.

It will take about a year. It will involve dozens of people, vast amounts of time, and considerable money and angst. How much money for the search? That varies, but similar searches around the country these days tend to cost upward of $100,000, for consultants, travel, advertising and more.

The president it generates probably, if history is any guide, will have an impressive resume but little or no experience with either Idaho or the university, and so necessarily will have to spend a year or two getting acquainted and learning the ropes. Because the search is national, salary and benefits will ratchet up to the national marketplace level, which has been racheting ever higher and higher.

How long will this investment – assuming the choice is a good one, which isn’t always the case – last? Maybe not long. In the case of Nellis, chosen by a nationwide search, about four years. His predecessor as permanent president, Timothy White, also lasted four years. His predecessor, Robert Hoover, lasted a little longer, about seven years, but left under a cloud.

Something like this probably will be the university’s, and Idaho’s, experience again.

Or.

Last week an interim president – to fill in between Nellis and a permanent successor – was named. He is Don Burnett, the dean of the university’s law school.

The state Board of Education could do a lot worse than to just make his appointment permanent, right now.

If he’d take it (his age, in his mid-60s, might be his argument against). But consider his background.

He’s an Idaho native (born in Pocatello), was an attorney by profession, clerking for the chief justice of the Idaho Supreme Court and working as an assistant attorney general for entering into private practice (which is where I met him in Pocatello, in the 70s). He was also, I learn in reviewing his bio, a military JAG officer. He became involved enough in politics to earn mention often as a prospective candidate for various offices, including legislature; he would have been a highly skilled campaigner. He became president of the Idaho State Bar and one of the first judges on the Idaho Court of Appeals, where his opinions were some of the best written I’ve ever seen. He knows Idaho extremely well.

On the academic side he has degrees from Harvard University and two other institutions, and served 12 years as dean of the University of Louisville (Kentucky) law school, before returning to Idaho to become dean at UI. This shorthand resume just scratches the surface.

A national search would have a hard time improving on Burnett. And his learning curve would be slight. Bear all that in mind if the Board of Ed does what it usually does in the months ahead.

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Idaho Idaho column

news

DYSFUNCTION JUNCTION The Idaho Legislature has its problems, and many public school advocates would be quick to list them, certainly in terms of this session. But note too a recently-posted piece by Senator Steven Thayn, R-Emmett: “I believe the 2013 legislative session has been a dysfunctional session as far as education issues are concerned. There is a lack of common direction, agreed upon goals, or methods needed to accomplish these undefined goals. The legislature is drowning in information without direction.

“This confusion has lead to conflicting policies. The Legislature is restoring some of the cuts to teacher salaries while at the same time making it easier for the school districts to reduce teacher salaries. Also, there is a desire to give parents choice in education but opposition to funding charter schools. This confusion is to be expected with the defeat of the propositions in November. What should be the direction of education reform? Many, especially the Idaho Education Association (teachers union), assert that anything the voters rejected in November should not be addressed this session. “The voters have spoken” is the refrain. I, personally, do not know exactly what the voters really meant except for one thing — the voters did not like the process. The voters felt like the Governor, Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Legislature simply imposed a plan on the teachers without the teachers input. They want the stakeholders to work together.”

Suspicion here is that they wanted more than that. But useful thought processes begin with an acknowledgement that one doesn’t have all the answers, something Thayne certainly is doing here.

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First Take

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

From a statement on March 28 by Idaho Democratic Party Chairman Larry Kenck.

How does half a billion dollars in savings to counties and homeowners sound? How about, at the same time, we get health care to 110,000 Idahoans who don’t have it?

That is exactly what Idaho’s Democratic lawmakers have tried to do in the Capitol this year. That is exactly what our state’s GOP leaders refuse to consider. The issue is Medicaid Expansion and the GOP fears blowback from their “return to the gold standard” faction.

But, what do GOP leaders tell the public as to why they won’t make this wise policy choice? Why will they allow Idaho families to suffer the indignity and despair of poor health care when a far more humane (not mention fiscally responsible) option exists?

“We are going to be done by Friday, and I don’t think we can give that issue the thorough public vetting that it needs between now and then,” House Speaker Scott Bedke told the press. “They have my full attention, because it seems to offer very, very significant property tax relief.”

Good news!

GOP senators are just dysfunctional enough to smack down the $1.3 billion education budget at the 11th hour, giving most lawmakers nothing to do for another whole week. Now, they have plenty of time to take recommendations from months of study by a governor’s work group and take Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong’s word that he has the tools to make it all happen right away.

It’s not as if the GOP-controlled Legislature can’t make things happen fast if they care about something. Just last year they handed Idaho’s richest 17 percent of citizens a $35 million gift in the final days of the session.

Idaho Democratic lawmakers have pressed hard on this issue and repeatedly have been foiled by a GOP united against Idaho’s best interests.

It’s time for the GOP to stop playing the politics of appeasement to the radical-wing of their base. Businesses want this policy. Our state’s economy will benefit from this policy. Our federal taxes will remain the same even as we pay for other state’s that are wise enough to take advantage of this policy. Idaho’s children, who don’t have dental care or access to basic health services, absolutely need this policy.

My fellow Idahoans, it is up to us. Contact your legislators over the weekend. Tell them to do their jobs! Tell them to stop squandering opportunities and to stop making us pay for partisan political bickering. Tell them to expand Medicaid coverage—and then, after doing something good, tell them to go home.

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Idaho Reading

Chase
 
Former Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase, left, answers a question after participating in an economic impact forum. (photo/Mark Mendiola)

 

mendiola MARK
MENDIOLA

 
Reports

With Battelle Energy Alliance and CH2M-WG Idaho eliminating hundreds of high-paying jobs in the past year with more layoffs to come at the Idaho National Laboratory, eastern Idaho’s economy has taken a major hit unlike anything it has absorbed in recent years.

The second largest employer in Idaho behind state government, INL has accounted for about 8,000 direct jobs and roughly 24,000 indirect jobs in the state, boasting a $3.5 billion total economic impact and generating about 6 percent of Idaho’s entire tax revenue.

At its peak, total INL employment once stood at 13,000. About 3.5 percent of Idaho’s total work force has been attributed to INL with one in five jobs from Pocatello to Rexburg tied to the federal nuclear research and development site, including an estimated 760 employees in Pocatello and about 1,200 in Blackfoot, not to mention the majority of INL workers in Idaho Falls.

While Bonneville County has benefited the most from the billions of federal dollars pumped into the INL over the years, Bannock and Bingham counties also have reaped lucrative cream off the top.

Pocatello, however, has suffered significant setbacks in the past year. Hoku Materials’ polysilicon plant, once considered a great boon to Bannock County’s economy, sits hauntingly vacant after hundreds of millions of dollars were invested in it and some 200 employees were terminated.

Since acquiring AMI Semiconductor in March 2008, Phoenix-based ON Semiconductor has reduced employment at its Pocatello plant – once AMI’s world headquarters – by a few hundred, but it has invested millions into sophisticated equipment at the integrated circuit fabrication site.

Heinz’ frozen food plant in Pocatello at one time surpassed the ON plant and Union Pacific Railroad as Pocatello’s largest private employer with 800 workers, but it cut 80 full-time employees this month due to eliminating a frozen food line, dropping its total employment now to about 400.

The Dodge National Circuit Finals Rodeo once pumped hundreds of thousands of dollars into Pocatello’s economy in one week, attracting thousands of enthusiasts, but it trotted off to Oklahoma City in 2011 after 23 years at Idaho State University’s Holt Arena.

The Western Frontier Pro Rodeo ran in its place for two years, but as of 2013, there will be no major rodeo in Pocatello for the first time in 70 years, hurting motels, restaurants and retail stores accustomed to the annual boost in spending.

Needless to say, these daunting developments pose stiff challenges for the region’s business and government leaders. Some of those key players appeared at a well-attended March 27 economic impact panel discussion at Idaho State University and emphasized positive trends in the region, expressing optimism.

It was disclosed that evening at the forum that Pocatello Mayor Brian Blad and Bannock Development Corp. Executive Director John Regetz were in California seeking to recruit companies disgruntled by the Golden State’s rising taxes and burdensome regulations.

Allstate’s location of a customer service center in Chubbuck that employs hundreds was cited as a major coup for Bannock County. A WinCo super store recently opened and Herberger’s opened its first department store in Idaho at the Pine Ridge Mall. Canadian-based ATCO also recently located a manufacturing operation at the Gateway West Industrial Center.

Responding to questions about Hoku, former Pocatello Mayor Roger Chase and Idaho Department of Commerce Chief Economic Development Officer Gynii Gilliam explained that because Hoku was a new company engaged in new technology, the city decided it was too risky to finance the project by selling bonds. Gilliam was Bannock Development’s executive director at the time, and Chase was mayor.

Using creative financing, the city required Hoku to front the money. “If we had bonded it, we would be in big trouble right now,” Gilliam said, noting the plant was under construction for five years, greatly improving the property. “Pocatello is not out anything.”

Chase said the city owns the Hoku property and put $1 million into the project. The site’s infrastructure and equipment, including an electrical substation, are worth an estimated $30 million. All of its onsite steel will not go to waste, Chase predicted.

Chase, who chairs the Idaho Water Resource Board and serves as a consultant for the Bingham Economic Development Corporation, said one of the greatest challenges for economic developers is securing good paying jobs with benefits. Retail sales also are struggling in the region, he noted.

High commodity prices have helped the agriculture sector, and the stock market’s rise has boosted 401(k) values, creating more spendable income, Chase said. However, he noted Idaho has the highest percentage of people making minimum wage in the nation and one of the lowest average incomes per family.

After Pocatello in 2001 lost FMC’s elemental phosphorus plant that employed hundreds of workers and Union Pacific downsized its Pocatello operations, a $12-an-hour job with benefits is now considered good, he said.

Gilliam noted that the Idaho Department of Commerce has achieved 34 “wins” across the state representing more than 2,000 new jobs in the next two years and amounting to $225 million in capital investments.

Linda Martin, executive director of Grow Idaho Falls, said Bonneville County’s population has grown 26 percent in the past decade and the Idaho Falls area enjoys $3 billion in gross annual retail sales. She said she hopes the Federal Aviation Administration’s decision to close the air control towers in Idaho Falls and Pocatello can be reversed.

Within 150 miles of Idaho Falls and Pocatello, $800 million in products are exported, Martin said. Statewide, exports total about $6 billion, with electronics exceeding farm commodities. She said economic development efforts in Bonneville County the past five years have returned about $2.54 billion on what has been invested.

“Sometimes economic development is akin to pulling a rabbit out of a hat,” she said.

Neil Tocher, an Idaho State University assistant professor of management, pointed out that the average annual family income in Idaho Falls is $59,000 as opposed to $43,000 for Pocatello. He recommended that multimodal transportation distribution centers be developed by Pocatello, taking advantage of the city’s access to an airport, two interstate freeways and railroad tracks.

Park Price, president and chief executive officer for the Idaho Falls-based Bank of Idaho, said community leaders from Soda Springs to Rexburg need to cooperate in successfully promoting the region as a single 300,000-population market to attract companies and better jobs.

Premier Technology President Doug Sayer said it’s tough to compete in a market when the cost of manufacturing has doubled and qualified personnel are difficult to hire. He credited his company’s success to the quality of its work force.

Jim Johnston, a Pocatello City Council member and real estate agent, said Pocatello’s housing market gained about 8.7 percent in value last year as opposed to a 9.3 percent decline in 2011. It has enjoyed 13 consecutive months of price gains and is much better than it has been since 2007, he said.

Johnston stressed the importance of ISU to the region and praised a “communiversity effort” in support of the university, which employs about 3,800, including administrators, faculty, staff and students.

Chubbuck Mayor Steven England confirmed that Olive Garden had looked at property in Chubbuck for a new restaurant and mentioned that Red Lobster plans a $200,000 upgrade.

Tinno Batt, treasurer for the Fort Hall Business Council, said the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes (with about 5,500 members) employ more than 1,100 in their government and commercial enterprises, creating a significant multiplier effect in eastern Idaho. Two of Idaho’s largest farmers lease lands on the reservation, Batt said. The new Shoshone-Bannock convention center and casino were praised by several panelists.

Tim Forhan, Bannock Development past president, said quality of life and education were main factors in attracting employees to Pocatello when he was an AMI Semiconductor executive.

Arlen Wittrock, an ON Semiconductor consultant who serves on the Idaho Economic Advisory Council, said the state is not as strong as it should be in supporting rural economies and noted Idaho has the second lowest per pupil K-12 spending in the nation.

Wittrock advocated reforming Idaho’s personal property tax by looking at a tiered approach because he said it discourages high tech companies from locating in the state. Several panelists took issue with the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry’s push to repeal the personal property tax entirely.

Kent Rudeen of Power County and Vaughn Rasmussen of Bear Lake County said repealing the property tax would hit hard their counties, which rely heavily on the tax for their budgets. Rasmussen criticized the negative impact repealing $140 million in personal property tax would have on counties.

Power County hopes to develop industrial areas near the abandoned FMC site and near Lamb-Weston’s spud processing plant to bring better paying jobs, Rudeen said, noting American Falls has lost two cafes and a retail store recently. It has not had a car dealership for years.

The looming closure of the J.R. Simplot Co.’s Aberdeen potato processing plant also will “drain vitality” from the area, he said. Double L Manufacturing recently moved its farm equipment business from American Falls to the Heyburn area.

“I’m not quite as optimistic,” Rudeen said, adding that repealing the personal property tax would cut 40 percent from Power County’s budget.

Bank of Idaho’s Price noted that Idaho ranks 51st in taxes assessed overall. “We’re certainly not overtaxed,” he said, adding the state’s tax system seems pretty balanced right now. Repealing the personal property tax on equipment would hurt cities and counties, shifting corporate taxes to residents. “I don’t know if corporations need further relief.”

Chase said repealing the personal property tax would raise taxes for homeowners and make it difficult for local governments to compensate for the significant loss in revenue. He noted that many school districts in the state have had to resort to levy overrides to generate needed operating revenue.

He said it’s a sad commentary that Idaho’s prison budget has increased more than its education budget.

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Idaho Mendiola

cascades RANDY
STAPILUS
 
West of
the Cascades

A broad take on Jay Inslee, in the few months since he was elected and then sworn in as Washington’s governor, has been that he’s full of smiles and intentions of working with everybody, but that there’s not been a lot of coming down clearly on policy, one way or another.

That ended today, as these things often do, with numbers.

His proposed budget calls for $1.2 billion in targeted education increases, among other things. His thematic statement was that “I feel deeply that my number one priority is to help rebuild our economy, get people working again, and take important steps toward building a workforce for the future. And that begins with education.”

Also begins with spending more than Republicans would like, and that’s notably important among the Republicans who now control the Senate.

From Inslee’s press release: “Inslee has said repeatedly that the state cannot fund its basic education obligations by making deeper cuts to vital services for children, seniors and vulnerable adults. Instead, the Governor proposes closing tax breaks and extending tax rates set to expire June 30 — a 0.3 percent business and occupation tax surcharge paid by doctors, lawyers, accountants and others and a 50-cent-per gallon beer tax.”

That sets out with some clarity what he wants to do. It also marks out the battleground for the remainder of the session – or, if he holds to his determination (he and the House Democrats), however many subsequent special sessions lie in wait.

This has become a battle of wills. If Inslee’s approach has been to build up political chits till now, he’s reached the point where spending them will become necessary.

Washington’s legislative session is about to get a lot more interesting: The sides have now begun to fully collide.

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Washington West of the Cascades

This probably isn’t one of those business stories Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter will want to play up, though it concerns one of Idaho’s better-known companies (historically emblematic) – the Coeur Mining company, based in Coeur d’Alene.

Or, it has been. From the company’s press release out today:

Officials from Coeur d’Alene Mines Corporation (NYSE: CDE, TSX:CDM) today joined Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn’s administration to announce that Coeur will move its corporate headquarters to downtown Chicago.

Coeur is currently headquartered in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, the company’s home since 1985, and employs nearly 2,000 people worldwide. The company expects to complete the move to Chicago in the third quarter of 2013 and to hire at least 60 employees at its downtown headquarters by the end of 2014. In addition, Coeur intends to change its name to Coeur Mining in mid-­‐May following its Annual Meeting.

“Coeur could have chosen any number of cities for its home, but they chose Chicago because Chicago gives the company its best opportunity to grow, expand and thrive,” said Mayor Emanuel. “Coeur needs a global city with a deep talent pool and access to international markets. I am proud that the city worked to put its best foot forward and attract this vital company. I look forward to working with Coeur as they make Chicago their new home.”

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Idaho

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

The first headline:

COMMANDANT TO AFGHANISTAN MARINES
“MAKE EVERY SHOT COUNT”

A day or so later, the second headline appeared:

GUN SHOPS RUNNING
OUT OF AMMUNITION

The next day, another:

DEATH THREATS CANCEL
MICHAEL VICK BOOK TOUR

Taken individually, each of those headlines stands alone as events in today’s news. Taken together, they tell a different story of a nation stagnating under political failure, citizens arming themselves against their own government and each other and a society where fear of lawlessness – steeped in ignorance – interferes with the conduct of our daily lives.

While the first story seems to be about the top general in the Marines passing along some common sense combat philosophy – probably already learned in basic training – it’s really more a tragic statement about our current national political failures.

The real reason for the general’s admonition is the sequester! The self-inflicted “let’s-play-political-chicken-with-our-national-economy-and-our-national-defense” idiocy our “representatives” have created in Washington. What the commandant was really telling the troops was “We’re running out of money to buy the ammunition and other weaponry you need to beat the enemy while trying to get yourselves out of that damned country alive.”

In fact, all our military services are being crippled by politicians – not all politicians – just the idiots who’ve absolutely no idea what the hell they’re doing in elective office. The army is cancelling training maneuvers and other preparedness activities. Including weapons use. The air force has curtailed training missions and many routine operations. The navy has called some ships back to port, limited flight operations because of the costs of aviation fuel and is foregoing certain readiness activities. The coast guard has reduced its sea-going drug interdiction missions. All services have begun laying off civilian support workers. Because our Congress has taken a meat axe to make indiscriminate cuts in our entire national budget.

The second headline is also a dreadful commentary on this country at the moment. A country slowly being paralyzed by paranoia and fear. Gun sellers are running out of weapons and the ammunition for the first time in our nation’s history because a bunch of scared people are hoarding it all to use on their government. Or their neighbors. Or each other.

New polling shows most Americans don’t own a gun and they’re not the one’s out there buying one for the first time. Today’s buyers are more likely to be people who already have guns and now are buying still more while putting dozens more boxes of ammunition into the crawl space under their homes.

The third headline – Michael Vick and his book tour – is really connected to – and an outgrowth of – the gun craziness and speaks to irrational fears and our personal safety. For all of us.

I’m not a big fan of Michael Vick. The savagery of his dog fighting years is repulsive – a stain he’ll carry for life. But he was convicted – served his time – has engaged in some extensive charitable work regarding animals – has rededicated himself to responsible animal care – and has resumed his professional football career in fine manner. The way I was raised, he did the crime – he did his time – he’s trying to make amends. That should square him with society. Those are our normal expectations of someone who’s done something wrong. As the anti-gay crowd is fond of saying “Love the sinner – hate the sin.”

Now he’s written a book about his experiences – and his growth – as a lot of people in public life have done. But his publisher has had to cancel all his book-signing appearances because of repeated anonymous threats to kill him if he appears in certain cities. For a book signing? In a book store?

In nearly all instances, threats against Vick are anonymous. That’s the curse of the blessing of technology today. The Internet. Cretins with the mental acuity of moss can lob their threats with no personal responsibility. But several police departments have taken it seriously enough to ask Vick to stay away. So he has.

Is it too much to connect the dots here? From cowards among us who use anonymity to foist their irrational hate on the rest of us so our normal behavior is changed to avoid violence? To national paranoia and more irrational fear that causes thousands of Americans to create personal armories to use against any of the rest of us who might appear to be a threat to them? To our very national defense which is hamstrung by politicians irrationally who fear the size of their own government and, in that fear, are putting our national security and those who provide it in jeopardy?

I don’t think so. Fear seems to have become our common national theme. It’s manifest in nearly everything we do. We’re being consumed by it nationally – in politics – in our personal relationships – in groups trying to divide themselves from the rest of us in what used to be a united country.

But if you really want to feel fear – to be afraid – put yourself in a fox hole in Afghanistan – 20-years-old – and your commanding general has just told you to be careful with your ammunition because politicians have made it impossible for the Marines to buy more.

Now THAT’s fear!

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Rainey

carlson CHRIS
CARLSON

 
Carlson
Chronicles

Shame on State Senator Bob Nonini. It was bad enough that the ethically-challenged state senator from District 3 went unpunished by the Senate Leadership for his role in helping to secure contributions and contributing himself to Tea Party challengers to Republican incumbent state senators like Shawn Keough from Sandpoint and Dean Cameron from Rupert.

The latter two are two of the hardest working members of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee and are veteran, reasonable, caring listening legislators. Nonini last year, in an apparent effort to curry favor with the then House Speaker Lawrence Denny, and the Tea Party types conspired with among others Avista lobbyist Neil Colwell to secure and send some substantial contributions to challengers to incumbents in his party.

Nonini had to know he was putting at risk his ability work with his future colleagues should he fail, but apparently didn’t care. Colwell at least received a dressing down from his superiors at Avista and CEO Scott Morris drove to Sandpoint to meet personally with and apologize to Senator Keough and Representatives Erik Anderson and George Eskridge for the perfidy and stupidity of their lobbyist.

Rumors circulated before the session that the GOP Senate Leadership, capably led by Senate Pro Tempore Brent Hill and Majority Leader Bart Davis, planned to deny Nonini any committee assignments and ban him from the Republican caucus. Nothing of the sort happened, however.

Unlike Nonini, Senators Hill and Davis are honorable men. Shame on them, though, for letting Nonini’s stupidity go unpunished.

Now Nonini is pushing a bill that would divert $10 million from the already underfunded budget for education. The funds instead would be directed to parents and others as a tax credit for scholarship monies they may have paid to send a child to a private school.

Nonini says taking a kid out of the public classroom and incentivizing parents to send to a private school would save money. Come again? The operations and maintenance cost for the school remain the same whether there are 25 students in the class or 24.

Nonini should find a copy of Idaho ’s State Constitution and carefully read (I started to write “reread” and realized I was making a heck ‘uv an assumption) Article 9, section 1 and 5.

Section 1 says the State Legislature is obligated to establish and “maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools.” Nothing in there about private schools is there?

Section 5 says no public dollars shall be allocated “in aid of any church or sectarian or religious society, or for any sectarian or religious purpose to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university
or other literary or scientific institution controlled by any church, sectarian or religious denomination whatsoever.” Sounds pretty clear to me?

One wonders just who Nonini is carrying water for on this kind of thing. Such cynicism is not warranted, you say? You might be correct.

I don’t use the phrase “ethically challenged” lightly. Look for yourself at the record contained in the Idaho Supreme Court Data Repository. Here are the case numbers: CV 1996-0006260, Bonner Properties vs. Robert P. Nonini; CV 1992-0089158, Coeur d’Alene Adjustment Bureau vs. Robert Nonini; CV 1992-0088598, Met Mortgage Finance, Inc. vs. Robert Nonini. Go yourself to the Courthouse, look them up and peruse the contents, then draw your own conclusions.

Too bad the Senate Leadership did not see fit to punish him for his perfidy. A good starting point would have been to let him know that no bill he sponsored was going to go anywhere this session. Then we wouldn’t have to worry about his diverting $10 million from public education for private education, would we?

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Carlson Idaho

There was a time not so long ago that Dave Oliveria, the Spokesman-Review‘s columnist/blogger for northern Idaho, was clearly sympathetic with the area’s ascendant Republican politicians. He’s a self-described himself conservative, as in one interview where he recalled, “In 2004, we had the presidential election and I was probably one of the few in the newsroom who supported Bush. I wanted an outlet. I wanted to provide a conservative voice online to counter some of the liberal voices.”

I mention this by way of setting up the bonafides when Oliveria, as he has done increasingly in recent years, takes on the local Republicans.

He started a post today noting that the Kootenai County treasurer, who had planned to resign, withdrew the resignation after becoming concerned that the county’s Republican central committee, which selects nominees for replacing him, would not choose someone qualified for the job.

Oliveria: “The GOP Central Committee no longer can be trusted to act in the best interests of the public. Rather, it has become a vehicle for Constitutionalists, Libertarians, Ron Paulers, and various other elements of the local Tea Party to push their extreme agendas under the name of the Republican Party. For the past year, we have watched as “Republican” activists have created turmoil on the Coeur d’Alene City Council and Coeur d’Alene School Board. Councilman Steve Adams, a former North Idaho Patriot for Ron Paul, won office as a “Republican” and now has Coeur d’Alene facing an economic disaster as a result of his flipflop stand against wastewater treatment expansion. The Coeur d’Alene School Board, including three appointees, all of whom have Republican Party backing, has bounced from one self-inflicted controversy to another in the last 9 months.”

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Idaho

news

BOEING JOBS It’s not just how many jobs; it’s also what kind of jobs, and how much they pay. That may give some outsized significance to the report out today about the prospect that Boeing may moved hundreds of white collar jobs from the Puget Sound area south to California. In the Seattle Times: “The company’s blue-collar workforce last week learned Boeing would shrink the ranks of machinists by more than 2,000 this year, including about 800 layoffs. Boeing’s white-collar workforce in the region will also lose some jobs — though the process will be more piecemeal.”

IDAHO MEDICAID You might think that the idea of sending tax money to the federal government only to deliberately get less of it back might be a winning arguing point … even in Idaho. A Medicaid committee set up by Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, no fan of the feds, says as much, that such “leaves Idaho citizens in the frustrating dilemma of Idaho federal tax dollars supporting expansion in other states, while our taxpayers reap none of the benefits. We urge serious consideration of the negative consequences of delaying expansion.” As matters stand, though, legislative leaders seem poised to block even consideration of the idea this year.

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First Take

trahant MARK
TRAHANT

 
Austerity

Three years ago, on March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. The bill also included the permanent authorization of the Indian Health Care Improvement Act.

As I wrote at the time: “When Medicare and Medicaid passed Congress in 1965 and were signed into law there was no consideration – none – of how those bills impacted Indian Country. It was as if the Indian Health Service, then all federal employees, was off the books, a forgotten instrument. In fact there wasn’t even a plan that allowed IHS to tap into Medicare or Medicaid dollars. That had to wait for the Indian Health Care Improvement Act of 1976.

That is not the case with President Obama’s health care reform. Indian Country is included throughout the document in large and small measures designed to improve the health of Native people.”

Indeed, three years later, only a year before many of the most important provisions of the law begin, it’s hard to understate what this law means to the Indian health system.

Consider the money. The Indian Health Service is funded largely by appropriations. In recent years this has worked well with bipartisan support for increased funding. Since 2008 there has been a 29 percent increase in IHS funding.

But that is unlikely to continue. The appropriations process itself is, well, I’ll use the technical term here, a total wreck. So getting a logical appropriation will be less and less likely.

But the Affordable Care Act opens up revenue streams that are not appropriations, money that is, essentially, automatic. If a patient qualifies, then the money is there. This happens two ways. First, many more people will be eligible for Medicaid funding and second there will be new insurance exchanges with plans that could be purchased by both individuals and tribes, mostly, as employers.

As IHS director Dr. Yvette Roubideaux told a House hearing last week: “The Affordable Care Act is an important part of reform for the IHS since the law has many new benefits for American Indians and Alaska Natives. The insurance reforms in the law protect those with insurance, and the State and Federally Facilitated Exchanges or Marketplaces, will make purchasing insurance easier in 2014. The Medicaid Expansion will cover more American Indians and Alaska Natives based on a higher income threshold, so more adults will have option to enroll in Medicaid. And American Indians and Alaska Natives can still use IHS since the Affordable Care Act extends authorization of appropriations indefinitely.”

Think of it this way: Every patient will have the power of a customer, and serving that customer means more money, not less. Because beginning next year more American Indians and Alaska Natives will be either eligible for Medicaid or reduced-cost insurance purchased through the exchanges. So more patients will be bringing money into the Indian health system, not just relying on what’s been appropriated from Congress. (This, in theory, should also improve the quality in the Indian health system because those same patients could go outside of IHS and purchase health care from a private provider.)

And the law does have incentives for American Indians and Alaska Natives to participate in exchanges, such as a waiver of co-pays for those whose family income does not exceed 300 percent of the poverty level, or roughly $66,000 for a family of four in 2010 or $83,000 in Alaska.

Many of the rules regarding the implementation of the Affordable Care Act are so complicated that the impact on Indian Country won’t be visible for a time.

For example Jim Roberts, a policy analyst with the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board, writes “the exchanges are important because they are the new frontier for Indian health financing; we won’t see IHS appropriation increases like we have in the past.” And for many tribal members, based on income, they will be eligible for a subsidy for insurance purchased through an exchange. But will folks? Consider the IRS regulations on Employer-Sponsored Insurance. The agency says plans will be deemed “affordable” if the cost is under 9.5 percent of a family’s income. “As a result,” Roberts writes, “premium subsidies and cost-sharing assistance will not be available to the uninsured spouses and children of employees who have access to affordable self-only coverage but who cannot afford dependent coverage because the premium exceeds 9.5 percent of household income.”

However in Indian Country, “the rule, more than the exception” is that tribal members only sign up for insurance when the employer pays all of the premium. “And if there is any cost for their family they most always do not sign them up because most ESI plans require the Employee to pay 100% of the cost. It’s unfortunate because this shifts cost to the IHS. Indian families that have access to IHS should meet the requirement for having “essential coverage” (Individual Mandate rebranded), but the IRS rule does not consider IHS coverage as ‘essential coverage.’”

Another problem Roberts sees coming is definition of American Indian and Alaska Native in a family that includes mixed-race marriages. “Family of 4, two enrolled Indian parents exempt from the penalty and children are not enrolled, do you apply 50% of the penalty amount? Likely not, it would be applied to the household if any family member doesn’t qualify for an exemption. This will be very complicated to operationalize,” Roberts writes.

The next few months will be complicated and occur at the same time that the Indian Health system will stretched by the financial limits of funding during this year’s sequester. The regional disparities in health care delivery already present in the Indian health system could be further widened because some will states opt out of the Medicaid expansion.

Ideally of course none of this would matter. Congress would appropriate money for the Indian health system directly, as a promise made by the United States, and that system would run parallel to other health systems. Fully funded, of course. But that’s not likely to happen soon.

But the Affordable Care Act opens up the possibility of full funding in a different way. The Indian health system will still deliver health care, but the funding mechanism will soon come from a variety of sources, some new, some complicated, but free from the politics of appropriations. Implementation of this law will be complicated, and tribes will have to fight for rule changes and other tweaks along the way. But at least, at the end of the process, there should be more money.

Mark Trahant is a writer, speaker and Twitter poet. He lives in Fort Hall, Idaho, and is a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Join the discussion about austerity. A new Facebook page has been set up at:
https://www.facebook.com/IndianCountryAusterity

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Trahant

rainey BARRETT
RAINEY

 
Second
Thoughts

Several weeks ago, some new express lanes were added to the Washington D.C. beltway – not normally a point of interest or concern here in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods. Your neighborhood either, I’d guess. But, you might pay more attention if you knew who paid for those improvements and who owns them – private construction companies Flour and Transurban.

“And just why did those two private outfits put up the millions to add to our national transportation system?” you ask. “To make a profit,” sez I. “To own them,” sez I. And that worries me. A lot.

The new D.C. traffic lanes are for carpool use. But, if you’re alone, want to get out of the other four lanes and into the much lighter traffic, go ahead. After you pay the fee. For a few bucks more, you can just whiz to work alone with the carpoolers. And your money goes where? Why, Flour and Transurban, of course. After all, it’s their road now. Or, at least part of it.

One of the tenets of conservatism I’ve long agreed with is government should do the things government does best – private enterprise should do what private enterprise does well. Good balance. Philosophically and often fiscally. But the key is “balance.” And that’s too often hard to achieve.
We look to government for a sound military and conducting our national defense. But, over the last decade or so, we’ve turned over more of the responsibility for our military operations to private business. Housing, food service, construction and a lot of other formerly military-only tasks are now done in many places by civilian contractors.

You might be O.K. with that. But how about the same civilian contracting for security and fighting a war? How about the thousands of mercenaries we hire? Civilians. Is that just the same concept? Firing the bullets instead of cooking food or building a base? Killing on behalf of our government so the military can do something else?

As I said, balance.

In a more mundane way, this privately-owned highway business raises a lot of questions about who should be doing what. Historically, some level of government has always built all our highways. We have city, county, state and federal systems. We build ‘em and we maintain ‘em. We own ‘em.

But, as our various governments are pushed harder against the financial wall, they’re looking for help. Really big construction and engineering companies like Bechtel and Samsung are talking with the big – really big – banks. Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs are two – with billions in pension funds and all those insurance dollars just lying around. The idea is they put up large amounts of up-front funding, getting paid back – plus a lot of interest – by owning them and charging us for using them.

But if you and I don’t own the highways – and if those highways need fixing down the road so to speak – what recourse is there to see that private enterprise does its job? What if one of the big corporations – after making a few billion dollars – takes the money and goes out of business? Who does the necessary rebuilding? And who pays?

And just to add a little frosting on this conundrum, they’re talking using this private enterprise deal to build – and rebuild – bridges on our highway system. God knows, they need it. For instance, Bechtel builds a bridge here and a bridge there and a bridge somewhere else, then charges tolls which the company keeps. So, let’s say private companies like Bechtel build – or rebuild – and own 15 bridges from Seattle to Los Angeles. That’s potentially 15 toll collections along Interstate 5 going one way and 15 more going the other. On a route we now drive for free. Free, that is, after we put up the billions in tax dollars to build the whole thing in the first place.

Industry newsletter Public Works Financing (PWF) has identified a dozen projects hat were proposed in 2012 with a value of about $20 billion. Since 2008, 10 others were completed or are still underway. One is a tunnel linking the Port of Miami to an interstate. There are several toll highway expansions in the East. And, in Long Beach, Calif, one company built a new courthouse. And owns it. Charges the taxpayers rent.

PWF has estimated there are now over 100 private funds in place to do more of this kind of thing. But – so far – there’s more money available than there are projects. One reason – whether a courthouse or a road or a bridge – the project has to be high-use and in large populations areas so tolls or rents can exceed construction and operating costs. But, if more governments contract out this sort of stuff, someone will figure out a way to use it for more things – in more places. Even in our little burg-in-the-Oregon-woods.

As I said, “balance.” But there are so many things out-of-balance in our system of government right now -and society in general – that new ventures like these trouble me. While “necessity” may be “the mother of invention,” I’d hate to see our governments at any level jump into this private ownership of highway, bridge, public buildings idea while under today’s extreme financial pressures. Let’s regain our national balance and take some time to examine all the ramifications of these types of ventures.
Somehow, I just don’t think it’ll be comforting to drive across an interstate bridge built -and owned – by the folks who make Big Mac’s.

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Rainey

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

If you’re an Idaho taxpayer, you may be an Idaho tax scofflaw and not even know it.

Probably few Idahoans know about the use tax, and probably fewer pay all of it that is owed.

The use tax is a kind of counterpart to the much better-known sales tax. When you buy a product in Idaho, you are (in most cases) charged a sales tax, which the seller in turn has to forward to the state. Suppose you buy something in Oregon or Montana (or, for that matter, Alaska, Delaware or New Hampshire) – one of the five states that do not charge sales tax – and bring it back to Idaho? That can amount to significant money in the case of something like furniture or a car. That way, you can avoid sales tax and cut six percent off your cost, right?

Idaho law has considered this, and it imposes a use tax. If you buy it over the border and bring it back to Idaho to “use,” you have to pay the equivalent of the sales tax. The state is fairly rigorous on the car front, since autos used by Idahoans have to be registered in Idaho.

Generally, the use tax has to be “self-assessed,” sort of an honor system. Every now and then the Tax Commission, to which it is supposed to be paid, issues a statement on the subject. Last week, for example, it advised (in advance of income tax filings):

“Check your invoices to see whether sales tax was collected on the following purchases, which may require a use tax payment: Magazine subscriptions; Book and record clubs; Out-of-state catalog purchases; Merchandise bought over the Internet (including digital music, movies, books, games, etc.); Purchases in a state where no sales tax is charged; Untaxed purchases of merchandise from Idaho vendors. If sales tax was not collected, Idaho makes it easy for taxpayers to pay their use tax when they file their annual income tax return, which is due by April 15.  Simply total your untaxed purchases, multiply that total by .06, and enter that amount, rounded to the nearest dollar, on the appropriate line of your income tax return.”

You’ve done all that, right?

The use tax hasn’t gone entirely unnoticed at the Idaho Legislature, but there’s been little move in recent years toward any big overhaul; usually, whatever happens to the sales tax is linked to the use tax. One example, House Bill 12 this session (signed into law), which includes some sales tax changes but also “clarifies that use tax shall not be imposed on military members and accompanying spouses if certain articles were purchased prior to receipt of orders transferring to Idaho.”

There’s also House Bill 13, stuck in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee since early in the session and maybe going no further, which “This bill amends the Sales Tax Act to clarify that every person with a duty to account for and pay over any tax imposed upon or required to be collected by any taxpayer under the act also applies to use tax.” Supposedly, that clarification would add $192,500 to the state general fund.

Seems a little doubtful as matters stand.

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Idaho Idaho column

dog at legislature
 
Shelby, a dog attacked by a wolf, is accompanied in the hallway outside hearing rooms by a group of legislators.

 

In Washington, the economic picture looks a little better – not a lot, but a little – after the latest economic update came in last week. Atop that, unemployment rates seem to be holding steady too.

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Briefings

ridenbaugh Northwest
Reading

This opinion is by Duff McKee, a former Idaho district judge. He originally posted it on Facebook.

The continued diatribe from the extreme right wing, the incessant drumbeat that Obamacare must be repealed in its entirety, and the more recent attempts to emasculate or nullify the act by withholding state participation, defy reason and common sense to the point of becoming ridiculous.

The plain fact is that under any fair evaluation the Affordable Health Care Act, or Obamacare, when taken in its entirety, is a moderate compromise of policies embracing traditional values and views of both the right and the left. Obamacare is not a federal take-over of health care, it is an overhaul of health insurance. It is not an irresponsible give-away to benefit one segment of society at the expense of another, it is a compendium of moderate policies and methods to benefit all of society, methods that have long been recognized and used by both left and right. To call it Socialism or Marxism is uneducated – showing a lack of understanding of either the fundamentals of Socialism or the teachings of Karl Marx. To make these arguments pejoratively, as though the Act is an evil encroachment upon our freedom, demonstrates a blatant ignorance of how our government and economy actually work.

The plain fact is that every president beginning with Truman – both Republican and Democrat alike – has tried to secure passage of some form of universal healthcare. The parties have and do differ of aspects of policy, but both parties have long considered healthcare to be a matter of legitimate concern to the government.

Over the years we have seen the arrival of expansive programs extending government involvement into the delivery of health care, some after significant debate and others with broad bipartisan sponsorship — Social Security’s SSI, Medicare, Medicaid, Prescription Drug Benefits, and Children Health Insurance Programs identify the main programs, but there are many more. These programs have been fully assimilated into our society and are now endorsed by both parties. There are differences, certainly, and both sides continue to propose adjustments and modifications, but with the exception of a very few extremists, nobody argues that any of these programs should be abandoned. Government participation in healthcare is here to stay as an essential ingredient of government service.

Obamacare is an exemplar of a middle-of-the-road compromise, embracing principles dear to the heart of both sides. While the overall objective of universal healthcare is a long-held liberal tenet, the framework of Obamacare may have been inspired by the national insurance plan suggested by Nixon in the 1970s. Parts of Obamacare mirror research in the late 1980s by the Heritage Foundation, a deep red conservative think tank. The concepts were fashioned into the program adopted and successfully implemented in Massachusetts in 2006, which has been operating without any of the dire consequences suggested by the right wing ever since.

Obamacare caters to the right in that it is based upon private insurance, issued by private companies, through private premiums, and with plenty of room for individual selection. The foundation of the plan continues to be employer sponsored health insurance for as many as possible. It answers the goals of the left by providing machinery to make coverage available to all through premium subsidies and expanded Medicaid. And it provides a network of regulation over the insurance industry to prevent abuse and assure availability by including such provisions as a baseline of minimum coverage, elimination of lifetime ceilings, elimination of preexisting condition exclusions, inclusion of appeal processes and other means of dispute resolution, making coverage non-cancelable, and regulating the percentage of premium dollars that can be absorbed by administration and profit.

The act does mandate compliance and impose sanctions, but this is not contrary to our society or our freedom or our theory of government. We have long had mandatory automobile liability insurance, mandatory workers compensation insurance, and the extraordinarily popular mandatory retirement insurance. We require that our young be schooled, that our minorities be treated fairly, that our workplaces be free of avoidable hazards, and that we be paid a minimum wage for our efforts. We insist on quality and safety in the milk we drink, the meat we eat, the cars we drive, the planes we fly, the new houses we buy, and the bridges we cross. Sanctions are imposed for infractions in all of these. Obamacare presents nothing new.

As the parts Obamacare have been rolled out, most of us applaud what we have seen. That we may keep our children on insurance until age 26 has been a tremendous boon to worried parents. Putting limits on the amount of premium dollars that can be siphoned away for marketing or retained as profit resulted in refund dividends to thousands. That children’s coverage is now guaranteed, portable and non-cancelable has provided relief and freedom from future worry to many. As Obamacare continues to roll out, most of us will continue to appreciate the features that begin to appear. Those that are affected will appreciate the features of portability, unlimited ceilings and elimination of exclusions first introduced in children’s insurance becoming available to all. Those gainfully employed but at the lower end of the pay scale will begin to see coverage in an increasing number of jobs, with subsidies to smaller employers and with a sliding scale of premium assistance for those seeking individual policies. State exchanges will provide smaller employers and individuals with resources to seek out economical coverage. The poorest among us will begin to see significant differences as Medicaid expansion fills in many gaps.

The argument that employers will suffer is not supported by fact or theory. The argument that jobs will be lost is a blatant misstatement of facts developed by the CBO. It is of note here that none of this happened when the state program was adopted in Massachusetts. The reality is overwhelming that employment decisions – how many to employ and how much to pay — are driven by demand, not payroll benefit cost. An employer will not hire a single employee until and unless his business demands that he has to, and when his business does so demand, he will hire as many as needed at whatever the going rate. There is no competent evidence that any legitimate business will ignore the actual economic demands of growth just to avoid paying an employee benefit, and any argument otherwise is pure sophistry.

The argument that we cannot afford Obamacare is completely misplaced. Healthcare is not a matter of choice; we do not choose to be sick or injured, and decisions on cost can seldom be postponed. Society, as a whole, already pays the entire cost of its healthcare now, with no opportunity to postpone or pick or choose. The problem is that the costs are determined and allocated among us randomly, unfairly and unreasonably, imposing untold financial hardships upon millions of us, and causing untold misery and even death to the very poor. It is not a question of whether we can afford the cost, it is a matter of how the cost should be allocated among us.

We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not provide healthcare to all of its citizens without exception, as a public service, at the common expense, and as a matter of routine governance. It is unconscionable to argue that this country should now reject our first steps into recognizing this fundamental responsibility, and return to a system where those least able are abandoned to the catastrophic burdens of poor health or serious injury.

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