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Posts published in “Idaho column”

From a tax election

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Idaho voters hate taxes so much they re-elect, and re-re-elect, legislators who (mostly) reflexively slap down anything with a sniff of tax about it.

Here is what Idaho voters did on Tuesday: Approved, often by overwhelming margins, local tax increases or renewals. In the Vallivue School District (Canyon County) 75 percent voted in favor; in Lewiston's school district 86 were in favor; in the Moscow School District, 70%. There were affirmative passing votes in the bulk of money-raising ballot issues around Idaho. They passed last week in Arbon, Cottonwood, Fremont County, Fruitland, Hagerman, Hansen, Kimberly,
Mountain View, Nezperce, Orofino, Parma, Rockland, St. Maries, Salmon River, Troy and Whitepine. That's a lot of tax approval going on for a state like Idaho.

There were rejections too, but considerably fewer of them, and often by narrow margins: Emmett, Homedale, Jefferson County, Kellogg, Plummer-Worley, Salmon. (There list of voting results here likely is incomplete, but it's what was available shortly after the election.)

Conditions differ, of course; the needs in the various districts were scattered. But the pattern seems reasonably clear, especially when you consider the non-school tax measures. A new jail okayed at Jerome. Library district levies passed in Burley and Richfield, a cemetery district levy in Hagerman.

Idaho voters are no wild spenders, but – faced with specific situations – they do seem willing to consider needs and raise money to deal with them. Their attitude seems at odds with that of many of their legislators.

The counter attitude shows up in the case of the vote at the Salmon School District.

The headline on the web page about the Salmon School District's proposed bond levy (the district's page) seems ironic in the face of the actual election on Tuesday: “Information about the may 21, 2013 Bond Election … And Why It Is Different than the Past Elections.” Those past elections are eight previous in the last decade or so, all rejecting proposed levies. (more…)

What they want it for

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

The norm in campaign finance, traditionally at least, goes like this: The candidate files and sets up an account for campaign spending, receives funds for campaign purposes, then spends it, presumably to around zero by election day, on such as ads, printing and mailing, salaries, office space, polling, depending on the size of the campaign. Traditionally, campaigns are like the Snake River at Milner Dam, which is dewatered at the end of one stretch, then refills in the next one.

That still often happens when candidates are in competitive races, when they collect whatever they can and spend it down, because they can't politically afford to leave resources on the table.

Nowadays, however, fewer congressional races are really competitive. If you're one of those nearly impregnable incumbents – say, a Republican in Idaho (or, a Democrat in some other states) – you really don't need but a fraction of the funds you take in. Most of your contributors aren't donating because they think you need it to win; they have other agendas in mind. You wind up with excess cash.

The handling of that excess money has come up in the case of Senator Mike Crapo's campaign treasury. Here's some background.

In the cycle leading up to his last election in 2010, Crapo raised $5.1 million, which was added on to some cash he already had on hand. In the campaign he spent about $3.4 million, only a portion of what he had available but still far more than he needed, since that was about 34 times as much as his Democratic opponent, Tom Sullivan, spent. Crapo ended the 2010 cycle with about $3 million cash on hand, and has continued to raise money since, though he's not up for re-election until 2016. As of the end of March, he had $3.4 million on hand. This is not an unusual situation; quite a few successful congressional candidates of both parties also are well padded. (more…)

The power of organization

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

Contrary to many expectations, Idaho has a good many Democrats, more than a lot of people suspect. More than 200,000 Idahoans voted for Barack Obama for president last year, and more than 200,000 votes in the two U.S. House races in the state went for the Democratic candidates.

Of course – and no minor point – there were about twice as many votes cast for the Republicans in those races, so in Idaho the Democrats lost. Still, the D numbers are something to conjure with.

I bore that in mind last week a report from Lou Jacobson, a writer on politics for Governing magazine who specializes on politics not on the federal level but in the states. His provocative question: Did the Howard Dean 50-state strategy actually do any good for Democrats? Short answer: He says that it did. Idaho relevance: Democrats should pay attention and take heart; and it could matter to Republicans in many places too.

The longer answer, explaining jargon and party history …

During his tenure as national Democratic chair from 2005 to 2009, former Vermont Governor Dean launched an ambitious and, to many professional pols in both parties impractical, effort called the “50-state strategy.” The norm in politics is to tightly target one's efforts in swing areas, and secondarily build up support in the base – and let slide the areas in strong opposition. For national Democrats, that means forgetting about places like Idaho, Wyoming, Oklahoma, Nebraska … you probably know the list. (Republicans have their opposing list, too.)

Dean thought this was all wrong, that the national party could, by carefully planting enough seed money and building organization in all 50 states, change the political atmosphere in even the toughest places – maybe not turning red states blue, but shifting them to less deeply red, building a bench of candidates at local levels who eventually could run for, and maybe win, higher office. (more…)

Demographic ripple effects

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

UPDATE: Belatedly, I heard the original source for some of this analysis was a report by StateImpact Idaho, by Emilie Ritter Saunders. So noted.

A piece of demographic analysis reported widely a week ago, about shifting tends in the makeup of Idaho's population, deserves some serious thought well beyond the thumb-tacked issue it highlighted.

That reason, as KTVB-TV's web article said, was that it is “a change that's alarming some jobs experts.” That's not wrong. There's a good reason the shifts in Idaho age groups – the state is losing younger people and attracting what is referred to as a “gray tsunami” - ought to concern those analysts; it really does have an effect on the labor force, which in turn affects business development.

Longer-term trend lines weren't immediately available, and that would have helped nail down the point. But there is some evidence things are moving in this direction; labor analysts found that in March another 1,400 people left the Idaho labor force.

But surely (to reiterate here the point again, albeit that some of the numbers came from the state Department of Labor) there are concerns that range well beyond those of business executives.

The analysis grew in large part out of a look at data from the state Transportation Department records, mainly drivers and other license information, to figure out where adults (and some teenagers) come from to Idaho, and where they go from the state. Historically, those numbers have been interesting, but larger conclusions are difficult to draw. They're not so difficult this time,

The report said that in 2012, net outmigration – people moving away from Idaho as opposed to moving in – was at higher levels, higher than in more than a decade. Bob Fick of the Department of Labor, which also tracks these kind of statistics, said “That's the first time we've had an outmigration from the 80s. … Will we have the labor force to man a recovery?”

The reason for concern is not so much the overall numbers but the age cohorts: People in their 20s were disproportionately moving out, and people above 60 disproportionately were moving in.

One impact, Fick suggested, is a slowing the “goods” (partly, manufacturing) economy, which generates relatively high-wage jobs, and more service jobs – reflecting what younger vs. older consumers tend to buy. That may translate to lower overall wages (Idaho ranks high on the percentage of workers at the minimum wage), and a softer consumer economy.

Let's look at this through a political lens. (more…)

The other solution

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

As the battle over gun regulation continues, the argument most promoted as an alternative to gun restrictions is the need to do more about mental health. National Rifle Association President Wayne LaPierre, last December, making the case: “We have a mental health system in this country that has completely and totally collapsed.”

As a gun-rights state second to none, Idaho might be expected to go after the matter of mental health in a more serious way. As a matter of policymaking, concerns about mental health per se might be a hard sell, but propping up the argument on guns would seem to be front burner … if problem-solving really is of much interest.

Idaho hasn't been doing (yet) what its neighbor to the south, Nevada, reportedly has been doing of late: Packing mentally ill patients on Greyhound buses and sending them to the other 49 states (1,500 or so from the Rawson-Neal Psychiatric Center at Las Vegas). But ....

In February, the Idaho Department of Correction, which had been seeking approval for a secure mental health facility containing 579 beds – a substantial percentage of people behind bars in Idaho as elsewhere have serious mental issues – dropped the proposal. The department said that “Director Brent Reinke decided to withdraw the proposal while the agency works with the Department of Health and Welfare, the courts, the Idaho Criminal Justice Commission and other stakeholders on developing a plan for addressing broader issues.”

Could that be a longer version of: “Let's form a committee”? That would cost less than the facility.

The department outsources medical care, physical and mental, at the correctional institutions, and its current contractor is Corizon, of Brentwood, Tennessee. It's a big company, providing services at 349 correctional facilities in 29 states. But as with the Corrections Corporation of America, which runs one of Idaho's prisons, there have been issues.

Last week the Board of Correction chose to continue its Corizon contract, now valued at $27 million annually, just until January rather than for a full year. It will also solicit other bids. There were prompts for this: Idaho fined Corizon for missing benchmarks, and a federal lawsuit has added pressure for improvements. The Associated Press said in one story last week that “a federally appointed expert concluded its medical care was so bad it amounted to cruel and unusual punishment.” (more…)

The snoozer asterisk

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

In Idaho, one election cycle out of every three qualifies as a big campaign year for Idaho – highlighted by races for both governor and senator – and 2014 will be one of them.

Those aren't the presidential election cycles. General election presidential campaigning in blood-red Idaho just doesn't happen anymore, although it does see some occasional some pre-nomination stumping, which Idaho did get in 2012. And election of all the statewide state offices are on the off-cycles, the mid-terms, away from presidential years. But only some of those have elections for the U.S. Senate; 2010, 2004 and 2002 did, but 2006 and 2000 did not. 2014 will feature one of those double headers.

That year Idaho gets a senate race, a governor's race, the rest of the statewides and the regular two-year offices (mainly legislature). In some years that's been enough to grab all kinds of attention around the state.

It might nonetheless be a snoozer. But for some of the same reasons it might be dull and almost ignorable, it could turn into a lively scrap at the primary level.

Last week Senator Jim Risch said specifically he plans to run for re-election next year. Risch knows the value of early announcements; that part of how now-Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter got the jump on the Republican nomination for the office, despite initial interest from Risch, in 2006. By announcing early, odds are that Risch has cleared the field of serious opposition. If, say, Representative Raul Labrador had been interested, the time for a push would have been before a Risch announcement. Now the state's Republican organizations and alliances will have time to coalesce around him, leaving few scraps for any in-party opposition. (more…)

Even in Holbrook

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

If the poet John Donne and the novelist Ernest Hemingway were right, that “no man is an island,” that we should “send not to know/For whom the bell tolls/It tolls for thee,” then we all are damaged by the carnage at Holbrook.

The case has gotten some attention, but so horrific is it that national viral status would almost be expected. It was a case of terror on so many levels.

In Holbrook.

Probably not many Idahoans easily could place Holbrook on a map. It is located about 10 miles west of Malad, in high open field country surrounded by mountains, country well away from population centers. I have driven through it a few times, but never had occasion to stop, partly because there was nothing to stop for, no visible commercial or public activity. It once was a true small town, but not an incorporated city, something places with as few as a dozen people have founded, and for decades has been more a clustering of houses. Population for the area is reported as 400; if you drive through, you may suspect that seems high.

Such places may be remote from metro areas, but the people there are not remote from each other. This isn't a matter of the vaunted small-town snoopiness, but the reality that with fewer people around, with fewer activities and distractions and less traffic, you see what goes on around you.

That's part of what makes the events there so disturbing.

The people who lived at the crime scene were not entirely distant from their community. On March 31, law enforcement officials said, the people in the house that became a crime scene hosted an Easter party. (As of last week, investigators were seeking out anyone who attended.) They might have seen something reportable.

There was plenty to see. A big pack of dogs was housed there – 64 pit pulls were found there about a week ago, with clear indications that at least many of them were being used for dog fighting. That activity, thanks to a recent change in Idaho law, is now a felony, and the reasons for that are not just because of the horrific effects on the dogs: It is often a good indicator that something has gone deeply wrong with the people involved, too. That was outside the house. Inside, investigators found 38 marijuana plants and enough cash to indicate significant trafficking was underway, another indicator of trouble. (more…)

More of the same

idaho RANDY
STAPILUS
 
The Idaho
Column

As this year's Idaho legislative session cranked up in January, many observers noted two significant changes in it: An unusually large number of freshmen, and a new House speaker who, for the first time in decades, had ousted an incumbent who would still be in the chamber in the session ahead.

There was some suggestion that these things might be a big deal in the course of this year's session: New people, a new way of doing or looking at things.

That legislature adjourned just before noon on Thursday, a mid-length session. Now, looking in the rear view mirror, looking at the large picture, it seems reasonable to say: Eh, not so much.

That doesn't mean the commentary from a season ago was totally off base. In the Idaho Legislature, very little of real substance has changed in two decades, even while some (not all) of the names have, so people understandably get excited about anything new that does happen.

And it's not that the new freshman crowd and the new Speaker Scott Bedke have made no difference. Both certainly mattered in what may be the keynote event of the session, the passage of a health insurance exchange bill. A group of 16 freshmen may have provided the legislative lubricant to ease it through to a narrow win in the House, and Bedke may have made possible progress on the bill, period; it had died a year earlier under his predecessor, Lawerence Denney.

Bedke's administration of the House was widely touted as smoother, more efficient and less controversy-prone than Denney's. (There even seemed to be somewhat fewer “quotable quotes,” the kind that go viral nationwide, than in the last few sessions.) The Legislature's “climate” - emotional and temperamental – was said to have improved. People inside the building tend to notice and appreciate that sort of thing a lot more than people outside it. (more…)

The choice in front of you

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. (more…)

The little-known tax

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.” (more…)