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Posts tagged as “Idaho”

A demarcation line

Huffington Post has out a list of the members of the congressional Blue Dog - conservative - Democrats, who have their own organization and evidently a concrete membership list.

Although a fifth of the House Democrats overall are Blue Dogs, just one of the 11 Northwest House Democrats is a member. No surprise: Walt Minnick of Idaho's 1st district.

Swan Falls: A smashup averted

A few quick thoughts on the Thursday announcement of an agreement between Idaho Power Company and various others, including the state of Idaho, about water rights linked to the Swan Falls Dam on the Snake River.

Swan Falls has a big place in Idaho water law, most critically because of the state Supreme Court decision from 1982 which said that Idaho Power had the rights to more water upstream of the dam (which is more or less south of Kuna) than almost anyone had previously suspected. That decision unleashed a couple of years of political and economic chaos until state and Idaho Power officials reached the agreement they more or less had to, which still gave Idaho Power the water it needed but didn't suck dry the desert land east of Boise, where many thousands of water users were on the verge of losing their water. The deal also launched the Snake River Basin Adjudication.

The deal was the one that had to be struck because if Idaho Power actually grabbed all the water which it might have been able to, a massive part of its rate base - the irrigation-based farm structure, some key industries and more - might have collapsed. The decision was the one that had to be reached. Over the years, though, Idaho Power inevitably took renewed looks at the agreement, and a couple of years ago challenged (in SRBA Court) some of its key terms.

The new agreement essentially puts that challenge to rest. (Okay: That's oversimplified, since it does have some substantive effects, but in the case of the larger issues it's nonetheless mostly true.)

The deal has been described as a major turning point. It is important, certainly, but mainly by way of averting a twist in Idaho history: A serious upending the 1984 Swan Falls agreement could have had massive unforeseen effects. It would have thrown a major curve into Idaho history. As matters stand, this is a deal that allows the big picture of Idaho development and history . . . more or less to proceed.

A dairy decline

One of the biggest economic stories in Idaho over the last couple of decades has been the tremendous - you might say wild - growth in dairies, especially megadairies, mostly in the Magic Valley but partly also in southwest Idaho as well. These factory operations have become a key part of the state's economy, even as they present a series of environmental and other issues faster than those issues can be dealt with. Abruptly, dairies became the biggest, most important sector of the Idaho farm economy, accounting for about a third of money produced.

The overall troubled economy, though, has put a pause in the dairy growth, and even in places reversed it.

A new Associated Press piece cites massive cutbacks in some dairy operations, and says one industry figure reports "The dairy drop has cost the state's economy roughly $200 million in taxes and lost revenue since the beginning of the year."

While much of the economy drawdown attention has focused on construction and tech, other sectors are scaling down too, and some of them - like dairy - have about as much impact on the state.

An Areva overview

The Idaho Falls area would find some interesting reading in a new Alternet article about the French nuclear power industry and the company Areva, the largest nuclear power business - albeit mostly owned by the French government - in the world, which is starting to undertake major investments in the Idaho Falls area.

From the article: "France's monopolistic dependency on splitting the atom to turn on the lights has come with a huge price - not only financially but in environmental and health costs. In reality, France is a radioactive mess, additionally burdened with an overwhelming amount of radioactive waste, much of which is simply dispersed into the surrounding environment. The situation is complicated by the fact that Areva, the French nuclear corporation and biggest atomic operator in the world, is almost wholly owned by the French government. Consequently, France's President Nicolas Sarkozy has gone into high marketing gear -- the Washington Post anointed him 'the world's most aggressive nuclear salesman' - pushing nuclear power to any country willing to pay, most notably in the Middle East."

Reading of some significance, even in a time of economic trouble.

CONTEXT FOR THE CRITIQUE A reader points out that the writer of the AlterNet piece is an anti-nuclear activist, which should be noted in context.

The reader, from Idaho Falls, adds, "I find the article a mishmash of facts, some logical inferences, and far more disingenuous propaganda. I find overall that it lacks integrity and credibility, though that's obviously just my opinion. I suspect our area of the state - very familiar and technically savvy in ways nuclear - wouldn't be particularly surprised, much less swayed, though they might be agitated."

The biggest shifts

The presidential elections of 2004 and 2008 obviously had different partisan results, but they also registered distinctly different partisan numbers - a shift from Republicans to Democrats, nationwide, of about 10%. The only significant Republican percentage increases in the presidential were in Alaska (the biggest by far, at 26%), Arkansas, Louisiana and Tenneesee, plus sliver improvements in Oklahoma and West Virginia. The other 45 states, including those which voted Republican both times (such as Idaho), all moved in the Democratic direction.

The Center for American Progress has put together a map on this, showing in the Northwest that Democrats made the largest presidential-level gains in Idaho (13%), closely followed by Oregon (12%) and Washington (10%).

In Washington state, 18 counties (of 39) registered a Democratic shift of more than 10%. The largest shift was in one of the most Republican counties in the state, Chelan County just east of the Cascades, at 15%.

In Oregon, 24 counties of the 36 shifted 10% or more. The highest shift there was in Washington County, at 16% - seemingly a continuation of a general trend in that county.

In Idaho, 21 counties (of 44) shifted 10% or more. As in the other states, most were just above the 10% mark, but one of them - Teton County - registered the largest shift in the whole region, at 23%, as well as the second highest, Power County at 18%. Those are both small counties, but also of interest were the shifts in the two largest counties in the state - Ada (17%) and Canyon (16%).

None of the 119 counties in the Northwest shifted Republican in that pair of presidentials.

Felony protection

Hart

Phil Hart

Idaho House Bill 139 may not be going anywhere; since it was introduced on February 16 it has stayed in the House Resources & Conservation Committee. But you have to wonder how thoroughly Representative Phil Hart, R-Athol, thought this throught before he had it introduced:

Notwithstanding any other provision of law, at such time as the Canadiangray wolf population exceeds one hundred fifty percent (150%) of the population objectives identified in the wolf conservation and management plan for the state of Idaho, according to statistics maintained by the Idaho department of fish and game, and a Canadian gray wolf causes the death of a person within the state of Idaho, any person who protects Canadian gray wolves shall be guilty of a felony, punishable by imprisonment in the state prison not exceeding five (5) years, or by fine not exceeding fifty thousand dollars ($50,000), or by both such fine and imprisonment.

That's the full substantive text. The official purpose is noted as, "The purpose of this legislation is to identify which individual or individuals are to be held responsible for criminal prosecution should a Canadian gray wolf kill a person."

So . . . it would be a felony to protect a wolf that has killed a person . . . or to protect wolves as a group? Would that include making felons of environmental activists who debate the law or regulation on the subject? The bill doesn't include any definitions.

Explaining (to some extent) in Res & Con, Hart said that "this
proposed legislation deals with wolves and will hold people accountable for wolf attacks under the wolf management plan. He reported that people who live in rural areas have been denied these rights. . . . In the discussion on the motion, Rep. Hart responded to a question regarding records of wolf attacks on people in Idaho. He explained that studies have been done in other areas and the criteria is rigid and an eye witness is required to report a killing."

Obviously a major problem. According to WikiAnswers.com: "Actually, there have been NO documented killings by wolves. Like any large carnivore, they deffinately have the means to kill a human... they can bring down moose. Usually, though, they like to stay away from humans as much as possible except for occasionally killing livestock." If anyone does know of a documented instance, let us know . . .

“Still at a funding crisis in transportation”

Probably shouldn't have been a big surprise, but the reports indicate that the core transportation strategic planners - mainly out of the office of Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter - really were thrown by the House rejection today of his proposed gas tax increase. Evidently, a number of House members were surprised too.

The debate was fairly closely split between the two sides but the vote wasn't close, at 27-43, with Democrats making some of the strongest anti-tax arguments. (Ponder that a moment: small-l libertarian Otter pushing a tax increase that the Democrats said was unaffordable.) Republican leadership couldn't push it through.

Representative Ken Roberts, R-Donnelly, was quoted as saying, “I’ll continue to work with the governor’s office to see if there’s another proposal that would be acceptable, because the problem is not going to go away." It isn't. But keep watch and see if, in the days ahead, there are attempts to re-frame it - maybe as indicating that road spending, apart from what's already being paid for, is something that might be shifted toward the back burner.

Examining the pieces

A definition of dismantle: "1: to take to pieces ; also : to destroy the integrity or functioning of; 2: to strip of dress or covering : divest; 3: to strip of furniture and equipment."

Used in a sentence, in an editorial in today's Idaho Statesman: "Gov. Butch Otter wants to preside over a dismantling of Idaho public schools. There is no subtle way to say it. And there is no way Idahoans should accept it. Otter's K-12 plan - using the word loosely - calls for cutting 5 percent from the schools' budget for teachers and staff. This will mean fewer class days, fewer teachers in the schools, and more children crammed into classes."

Is that a dismantling, though, and does Otter want to preside over it? Does a 5% budget cut - serious as it is, and it is serious - amount to a deconstruction of the system? We'd probably suggest a little more generosity than the Statesman has, recognizing the difficulty of the financial situation and Otter's limited options.

And they are more limited than many people may realize. From Otter's rebuttal to the editorial (and other critiques): "The reality is that I have some discretion – with legislative concurrence – over the use of less than $45 million of the $1.2 billion that is available to Idaho. That amounts to about 3.6 percent of the total. Given those limitations, all I am proposing to do is what people on Main Streets and in families all over Idaho are doing – tightening their belts. The people we serve are doing it; state government must not be exempt."

That last gives us a sharp spin of its own, though. This year's economic crisis has to do more with a lack of spending - a freezing up of money that usually flows through the economy - than it does with profligacy; over-indebtedness may have gotten us into much of this mess, but the problem now is that people aren't spending. There's never an excuse for waste, but "belt-tightening", whether governmental or otherwise, isn't the recipe for renewal at the moment.

This whole debate, which has been going on (in Boise as elsewhere) more quietly for some time but seems to have erupted today (in Boise), with the editorial, the governor's rebuttal, and other commentary. In Idaho, the key debate seems to revolve around the honeypot: The state's rainy day fund, which Otter is loathe to use (recognizing that the economic downturn may last into another budget cycle) and others are suggesting be used to at least some greater extent. The idea of finding new revenue to help bridge the gap appears to be off the table. (more…)

Teaching to the pizza

What's next when it comes to underfunding schools (see post to follow shortly)? The future of the really underfunded schools may be showing up in Pocatello . . .

Where, according to news reports, high school history and economics teacher Jeb Harrison is selling advertising - ads his students are obliged to look at. They are so obliged because the ads (for a 14-inch pizza for $5!) appears on tests and workbooks.

Before you blame the teacher, note that Harrison is not pocketing the money: The $315 so raised is being spent by the pizza shop owner on supplies for the classroom. The motivations of teacher and business owner seem more or less honorable enough. (The three commenters on the news story linked above all though this a wonderful idea.)

Where do we go from here - what's up for sale next? Is this the kind of sad, sold-out future - where absolutely everything is nothing more or less than another blank slate for another ad - we're headed toward? It is if we take the attitude toward school funding that - well, we'll come back to that in a moment.