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Posts tagged as “Idaho”

Not enough to do?

Dick Harwood

Dick Harwood

The Idaho Legislature is in a slow state right now, for understandable reasons - more needs to be done on the matter of budgets and revenue before the pace can pick up to normal. But that seems to be allowing all sorts of . . . creative . . . stuff to take up some of the quiet time and committees.

Like the special from Representative Dick Harwood, R-St. Maries, introduced today in the House State Affairs Committee (the vote was 13-4). It would have Idaho "declare its sovereignty" from the federal government.

Declare its sovereignty? As in independence, as in sovereign nation? Well, no.

The Harwood measure, a resolution, isn't on line yet. (We'll post a link when we see it.) But you can get a sense of where this is intended from the New With Views web site, which in turn cites a measure in Washington state. Read that touted measure, House Joint Memorial 4009, and what you find are, well, several indicative things. First, it is a memorial, which as people familiar with legislation know, is the same thing as a letter stating an opinion, just arriving on legislative stationary - it has no force or effect. (Harwood's seems to be a resolution, but it is evidently structured much the same way.) Second, its description says it is "Claiming state sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment" - which is certainly a part of the constitution, and has been, for a very long time; the reach and meaning of the 10th amendment (like all others) is determined by the courts, not by state legislatures. And third, HJM 4009 isn't going anywhere; its been immobile in committee since January 30.

Which may be the fate of the Harwood measure as well. If it does go further, even if it passes, it will have no practical effect. How could it?

So why is a legislative committee spending its time with this? Only two reasons suggest themselves. One is that political people in Idaho never lose a cheering section by bashing the feds. And the other is that, well, they seem not to have a lot else to do right now.

Shrinkage

A correspondent (who asked to remain anonymous) pulled together some comparisons of daily newspaper page size, on occasion of the Boise Idaho Statesman's switch today to publication on the press of the Nampa Idaho Press-Tribune - which is cutting the page size.

But it has been cut before, and it has been a process. A big process it has been, too. In 1986, space on a page of the broadsheet Statesman covered 323.1 square inches. As of today, a page is 233.7 square inches.

And we should note here that the Statesman is far from alone in the trimming; few if any daily newspapers publish today in the dimensions they did 20 years ago. (more…)

Tamarack’s closure

It was the first substantial new ski resort development built in the United States in 23 years. There may have been reasons no one else tried to do what Tamarack Resort tried to do. Certainly, though word now of its impeding closure stands to be buried in the avalanche of rotten economic news, the resort's troubles came well in advance of the nation's economic troubles. The causes may be related, but the problems at Tamarack were specific, too, unto itself.

We should be clear here: The closure, slated to March 5, may or may not be permanent. But it seems the decision came not from the Douglas Wilson Company, which has run the operation for some months, but rather that of a judge. So no one knows what may happen next, other than that the results are likely to have a lot to do with however much debt is involved.

It always looked a little problematic; the concept seemed to revolve around Bogus Basin crowds paying Sun Valley rates, a formula that never seemed (here anyway) very promising, however pretty the landscape may be (and that it surely is). The Idaho Statesman reports, "As of mid-February, skier visits were at 27,000, leaving the resort with an operating deficit of $304,000 as of Jan. 23, more than the $133,555 deficit anticipated two months ago by Douglas Wilson." Yeah, some of that is recession-based, but still. Once you sell off the real estate - that being the easy part, and even that not easy any more - how does it pencil out?

A lot of people will be puzzling over that for some time to come.

The business base

One of the key economic points we try to pay attention to is the matter of a local economy's base - the core of service or production that serves as the center of the economic engine. In times past, for example, you might have a group of farmers who raise crops; that production forms a center of economic production, which spreads outward toward crop storing and transportation, toward business and legal and medical services, toward needed retail, and so on and on. Usually such an economic base, its central engine, is manufacturing or production of some sort, or at least something generating value. If there's not a strong core generating value, then much of what happens in an area is simply the shifting around of money, and that can become a declining circle as everyone takes out their piece. A value, a wealth, enhancer needs to be somewhere central in the system, and best if the association is tight with one of the largest employers in the area.

So the throwaway line in the stories about Micron Technology's diminished employment in the Boise area - by August, estimated to be about 5,000 - have significance even beyond the considerable and very important direct loss of jobs. Micron, which for a decade or more has been the largest private employer in Idaho, also adds a lot of wealth as a manufacturer of high-tech materials, has been a wealth/value-creator, which has made it a very useful central economic engine.

What does it say about the structure of Idaho's economy that the pending biggest private employers in the state come August will be a hospital network - St. Luke's (about 7,600 jobs) - and a big-box retailer - Wal-Mart (about 6,900)? What sort of an an economic base do they form? Maybe even more than the raw loss of jobs, Idaho policy makers need to start considering seriously how the state's economy is structured.

The strange real world

Legislating can be difficult, but Idaho Representative Stephen Hartgen, R-Twin Falls, who in a former life as a newspaper publisher once managed a large web site operation, ought to have been able to see this one coming from a couple of mile off.

The basic concept behind House Bill 82 seems clear enough: "Current Idaho Code 18­6710 prohibits the use of the telephone to harass or annoy another person. RS 18369C1 would extend this prohibition to harassment via emails, text messaging, internet posts or personal blogs. Communications would be covered by the current penalties of a misdemeanor in the first offense and as a felony in the second or subsequent offense. RS 18369C1 provides examples of internet sites to be covered, and definoriginates in or is received in the state of Idaho".

If telephony and the Internet were the same thing, that might work. But the members of the House Judiciary Committee, where you might not ordinarily expect lots of high-tech expertise, spotted the flaws pretty quickly. From reporter Betsy Russell's blog:

Rep. Bill Killen, an attorney, asked Hartgen if the bill would cover his accessing a blog from Indiana that proved to contain material he found offensive. Hartgen said, “I think that would be a matter for the prosecutor to decide.” Rep. Raul Labrador, also an attorney, then said, “If it depends, I’m voting no. … If it depends, I have a real problem with this statute.” Hartgen said, “I think it would depend on what the prosecutor’s interpretation is. … That doesn’t really change, whether it’s Internet or telephone.” Responded Labrador, “But there is a huge difference, because the telephone message is directed at me,” while the blog is just posted in cyberspace.

Rep. Phil Hart, R-Athol, posed a hypothetical about a 17-year-old girl and a 19-year-old boy who have consensual sex, take explicit photos, then break up, and then one sends the other the photos. “In this committee we deal with the real world, and the real world can be strange,” Hart said. “Where’s the line between a crime and consensual behavior?” Hart also asked how many people would end up in Idaho’s prison system if Hartgen’s bill became law. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, an attorney, asked Hartgen for a definition of profane language.

Is the use of the Internet "to annoy, terrify, threaten, intimidate, harass or offend" a real problem? Yes. It is. But this kind of problem grows out of a new kind of technology, new uses and approaches. And legal responses to it will probably have to grow similarly, out of new ideas and approaches.

Micron’s shift out

micron

Micron

It was going to happen sooner or later; the foreshadowing has been here and elsewhere for a long time. But the cuts announced today at Micron Technology at Boise - about 2,000 Boise-area jobs to be gone by August or so - are still a stunner in the community. A lot of area businesses, real estate sales people and legislators as well may b gasping for air this morning.

"Micron Technology Responds to Continued Decreases in Demand," runs the press release, which may be true, but also is reflective of a long-term shift for not only Micron but aso most others in high tech; among other things, a shift overseas. Core sentence for local purposes: "This action will reduce employment at Micron’s Idaho sites by approximately 500 employees in the near term and as many as 2,000 positions by the end of the company’s fiscal year."

The outward swirl from the change will hit at least a couple of thousand other jobs, depress real estate prices and maye shutter a few businesses. Not a happy prospect at the moment.

The Idaho Statesman calculates that the move will take Micron job levels back to the early 90s, when it was in aggressive expansion mode, and make it not the first but second largest employer in the state. A major, major development; one of the top Idaho stories of the year.

Cut off before the first step

Nicole LeFavour

Nicole LeFavour

There isn't a formal bill text to link to here, because in Idaho until bills are formally "introduced" they are considered the personal property of the sponsor, not public record. (Try wrapping your mind around that one.) So we don't have text, but the description in the blog of reporter Betsy Russell should be nearly as good: "to extend the Idaho Human Rights Act’s anti-discrimination provisions to cover sexual orientation and gender identity."

The reason there's no bill is because the Senate State Affairs committee considering introduction decided not to print it - not only deciding not to approve of the idea, but deciding as well to give the idea no currency, no distribution for public discussion. Many pieces of legislation are introduced with the understanding that the bill might be flawed, might not get majority support, but the concept is worth a chat. Members, and the governor, and some others, often are able to get an introduction done just as a matter of courtesy. In this case, a proposal on a policy solidly ensconced in law in many other states (Washington and Oregon among them), no introduction was granted.

The key sponsor was Senator Chuck Coiner, R-Twin Falls. On the committee, Senator Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, made the motion to introduce; Senator Kate Kelly, R-Boise, seconded. The others on the committee, Senators Denton Darrington, R-Declo, Monty Pearce, R-New Plymouth, Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, and Russ Fulcher, R-Meridian, (and possibly a fifth member as well) voted against. They did not speak on the issue.

Senator Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, the one openly gay legislator Idaho has ever had, spoke on the measure at the hearing and remarked afterward, “I know better of them, and I know in their hearts they know better. That’s the hardest part.” On her blog later:

On a simple print hearing vote this morning where seven committee members heard from Senator Coiner first and then from me on why more than 42,000 people deserve to be able to work at their jobs, go to school and live in a house or apartment without fear, the senate state affairs committee voted five to two not to introduce the proposal as a bill.

Not to even give it the courtesy of print. Not to acknowledge that discrimination against gay people might be a problem worth discussing inside the state's law making body.

Clearly we have far far to go and need many more voices in there with ours because people all over this state live quietly in fear every day. In school rooms, in board rooms, at desks, in processing plants and apartment complexes. What are the values of a state which, by omission, condones discrimination year after year, whose law makers know better, but refuse to stand up and act.

The committee members asked not a single question. Senator Steger, always valliant, made the motion to approve the introduction of the bill. Senator Kelly seconded. The committee was silent but for their brief voice vote. Five to two. No.

Quite a committee

The federal stimulus money has been politicized in various ways around the country; among Republican governors, there's been talk of not accepting it (though all or nearly all probably will). Idaho Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, never a fan of the feds or federal money, has engaged in a little of that. But his first practical response so far has been impressive: An advisory committee on stimulus spending that isn't just an advisory committee, because of who is on it - three former governors plus four former state budget directors, the overall panel split evenly between the parties.

The governors are Democrats Cecil Andrus and John Evans and Republican Phil Batt.

That (together with the budget office expertise) make up a classy combination. And it's not your usual advisory committee, because whatever this one comes up with will be very hard to casually dismiss.

From the feds

While in Washington and Oregon there's a tone among political people that the federal stimulus money, welcome as it may be, shouldn't be run through too quickly or without thought, the attitude among many Idaho political people suggests that a really foul pile of landfill deposits is about to emptied on the state.

Idaho's portion is thought to be somewhere around a billion dollars (ad about 17,000 jobs, a few more in the 1st district than in the 2nd) - substantial money, of course. But the lather could stand some easing off. The Idaho Statesman's Kevin Richert put the the money in some perspective in a blog post: "All state agencies [put together] received just over $1.9 billion from the feds. And unlike the one-time stimulus money, this represents year-to-year federal spending, outside the state's general fund." And remember that local governments get plenty of federal money on top of that.

Richert concludes: "Idaho has had a federal funding habit for a long, long time."

WASHINGTON/OREGON: Estimated job creation out of the stimulus in Washington is estimated at 75,000, and in Oregon at 40,000.

Hard times, all over

Member of Congress - not all, but most - tend to be more insulated than most of us from economic downturns, but that's a little less true at the state legislative level. State legislators (in the Northwest's states, as in most others) are part-time positions, and those not retired or relatively wealthy have to deal with the same economy as the rest of us.

A useful piece in the Boise Weekly points out some of the Idaho legislators who are hitting scrambling times outside the session.

House Majority Caucus Chair Ken Roberts, R-McCall, is quoted, "I'm looking for jobs and doing my taxes," and the report adds, "Roberts owns a construction and excavation business in Valley County, where construction has come to a near standstill. His wife works four days a week at a pancake house in McCall." Had a little intake of breath when we saw the phrase "construction and excavation business in Valley County" - that may be as good a locus of a rough business climate as any in the Northwest right now.