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Posts published in December 2017

Idaho Briefing – January 1

This is a summary of a few items in the Idaho Weekly Briefing for January 1. Interested in subscribing? Send us a note at

The U.S. Air Force has selected the Idaho Air National Guard’s Gowen Field in Boise as one of three “reasonable alternative” sites for the future basing of F-35A Lightning II fighter aircraft. Truax Field in Wisconsin and Dannelly Field in Alabama were selected as preferred alternatives. Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter, Boise Mayor David Bieter and Brigadier General Michael J. Garshak – Idaho’s adjutant general – said they were pleased that Gowen Field would remain under consideration to receive an F-35 mission. However, Gowen Field is not among the top two contenders.

All four of Idaho’s members of Congress voted in favor of the Republican-backed tax overhaul legislation, signed into law shortly before the end of the year by President Trump.

Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the appointment today of Idaho Falls City Council member Barbara Ehardt to complete Janet Trujillo’s unexpired term in the Idaho House of Representatives.

Idaho's standard unemployment insurance tax rate for 2018 - will drop 1.5 percent to 1.374 percent for 2018.

The Boise City Council on December 19 approved a number of changes to the city’s downtown parking regulations in an effort to increase availability of on-street parking for short-term visits and to encourage use of garages and perimeter parking for longer stays.

It must be ice fishing season, because Lake Cascade is again kicking out record fish. Meridian angler Dave Gassel recently landed a 9.04-pound largescale sucker to take home the title.

PHOTO A hunter hunting water fowl in the southwest region. (Image: Roger Phillips, Idaho Fish & Game)

If you thought 2017 was challenging


The first year of the Trump era has been challenging: The administration and the Congress sought to repeal the Affordable Care Act and radically redesign one of the nation's best public health insurance programs, Medicaid. That plan failed. And I'll come back to that point shortly.

But first: Congress did move forward with its other agenda item, to rewrite the tax code and reduce the amount of federal income taxes that most pay. And the two key words here are income tax. That's important because most people pay more in payroll taxes than income taxes. The Joint Committee on Taxation looked at the numbers a couple of years ago and found that 80 million tax filers that earn $40,000 or less pay no federal income tax and many even get cash refunds. But we pay $121 billion in Social Security and Medicare payroll taxes. Even those families who make between $40,000 and $75,000-pay three times as much in payroll tax as in federal income tax—nearly $190 billion of the former and just $64 billion of the latter. The total income for a household has to exceed $100,000 more before income tax is a bigger cost than payroll taxes. Bottom line: Wealthy people get a tax cut.

The big winner in the tax bill, however, is business. The new law sharply drops what corporations and small business pay in federal income taxes. The Tax Policy Center calculates that savings at nearly three times as much for business owners in 2019 as for people who whose primary source of income is wages or salaries. The Tax Policy Center found that all households would get an average 2019 tax cut of about 1.6 percent of after-tax income (roughly $1,200). Those who make most of their income from wages would get a tax cut of about 1.5 percent of after-tax income, or about $1,200. But owners of pass-through businesses such as partnerships and sole proprietorships would get an average tax cut of 4.3 percent of their after-tax income (about $4,300).

It's important to note that corporate taxes have gone up in recent years, but are not at historically high levels. During the 1950s corporate taxes were 6 percent of the Gross Domestic Product.

One way Congress looks at business taxes is to account for "pass through" taxes. So if you earn money as, say, a freelancer. Then you can deduct expenses on another form. This process could be useful to a few people in Indian Country. If you do work that could be considered a "business" (and make enough to pay income taxes) make sure that you are set up as a business because you will pay less tax under this new law.

So lots of people -- and especially companies -- will pay less in federal taxes. And the federal treasury will have a lot less funding as a result.

"The tax bill will provide a bonanza to the most well-off Americans and profitable corporations, even as it leads millions of Americans to lose health coverage and ultimately raises taxes on many low- and middle-income Americans," writes Robert Greenstein of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. "And, faced with criticism that the tax bill will swell budget deficits, President Trump and House Republican leaders have made clear that one of their top priorities for 2018 will be to use the fast-track budget “reconciliation” process — the same process they used to pass the tax bill — to cut assistance programs that aid millions of struggling families, to try again to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and cut Medicaid, or both."

The process of reconciliation means that budget cuts next year could pass the Senate with only 50 votes -- all Republicans. That's awful. But the good news is that even might be a huge hurdle for Republican leaders. The problem is that the Republican majority is not sure what it wants. Some members want more money for the military and are willing to work with Democrats (who want money for domestic programs to make that so). Others want stark budget cuts; sequester times X. Others just want to find a deal of some kind, something that governs the country.

We already know these divisions are deep because the Republican-only majority has been unable to pass a budget for 2018 (which started October 1). The government is running on a temporary spending bill that expires Jan. 19. Right now the House is working off a funding level that would significantly increase defense spending and slight reduce domestic programs. The Senate is basically working off last year's budget.

That's all well and good for now but remember the pressure will increase to balance the budget as the cost of the tax legislation is calculated. As the National Congress of American Indians said: "The current tax reform legislation amounts to little more than a $1.5 trillion increase in the federal deficit over the next ten years. This deficit increase will inevitably create pressure to cut federal programs and services that are extremely important to tribal communities. Deficit-financed tax cuts that lead to austerity budget cuts would affect all Americans, but would disproportionately impact American Indians and Alaska Natives who rely on federal funding of the trust responsibility as well as social programs."

Congress is governing at two and three week intervals because there are not enough votes to pass a real budget. And that's not a good sign going forward because the budget only gets more complicated next year because of other issues that Congress has been avoiding.

Happy New Year.

The nose count


Stories using statistics are usually quickly forgotten. But, once in awhile, one comes along that makes you stop and give it some thought. This is one of those.

On the first day of 2018, the U.S. Census Bureau is projecting there are 326,971,407 of us in this country. And, that in the last 12 months, we’ve gained 2,314,238 new noses to count. If you go back to the last official census in 2010, that figure means we’ve grown by 18,225,587 folks in just eight years. That’s a lot of folks!

The next official, door-to-door people counting is still a year or so away but the Bureau has developed some handy-dandy formulas to usually come pretty close in its projections. So, let’s look at a few more.

In 2018, the Bureau nose-counters figure, just in America, we’ll see one birth every eight seconds and one death every 10 seconds. Add to that a net international migration of one person every 29 seconds. So, the combination of births and net migration minus deaths will increase our total count of one new person in our world every 18 seconds in 2018.

Then, there’s the question of how may of us there are in the whole world today. Glad you asked.

Today’s estimate is 7,444,443,881. That’s up from 2010 by about 78,521,290 or an increase of 1.07 percent. Worldwide, the Bureau forecasts 4.3 births and 1.8 deaths every second. I’m not sure where the official point of “overpopulation” begins, but when births are four times the death rate, we’re gonna hit it one of these years.

The Census Bureau has a web page that simulates “real-time”
growth of populations in this country and worldwide that’s worth checking into.

To me, these numbers are interesting but a bit beyond real comprehension when you’re talking about 7-billion. I still get nervous when there are more than six people on my bus.

Two outstanding public servants


This year witnessed the passing of two Idahoans who dedicated their lives to public service. Neither Orval Hansen nor Larry Boyle held public office to enrich themselves or others but, rather, to give of their time on this planet to make it a better place for the rest of us.

I became acquainted with Congressman Orval Hansen when I went to work for former Idaho Senator Len Jordan in January of 1970. Senator Jordan told me they had worked closely on Idaho issues since Orval’s election to the House of Representatives in 1968. Jordan said Orval was one of the best people he knew in Washington. He admired Orval for the way he dug into the issues and was able to work with his House colleagues to get things done for Idaho. That was high praise from a man who did not pass out compliments freely.

During the three years I worked with Orval’s office, I came to appreciate why Jordan held him in such high regard. Most of that work was through Dave Oxford, my counterpart in the Hansen office. Dave described how Orval became knowledgeable on nuclear issues by studying massive amounts of material during nights and weekends. That work paid off in the growth of the nuclear facility near Idaho Falls (the INL), largely through Orval’s efforts. He approached every other issue with the same vigor, gaining a reputation for his ability to get things done. One of his crowning achievements was getting the Sawtooth National Recreation Area legislation through the House.

Although Orval’s hard work served his state and nation well, producing results for constituents does not necessaryily produce votes. While Orval was diligently working nights and weekends in the nation’s capital and not doing a lot of tooting of his own horn, his 1974 opponent was shaking every hand in sight and won the election that year. That did not stop Orval, though, because he continued to serve the public interest in important ways, as documented in his memoir, Climb the Mountains.

Larry Boyle was another product of eastern Idaho. I met Larry in the 1970s when he was practicing law in Idaho Falls. He had a solid reputation amongst the lawyers in the area, but I did not appreciate how solid until he applied for a district judgeship in 1986.

The Idaho Judicial Council was charged with the responsibility of interviewing candidates for the district bench and submitting a list of 2 to 4 candidates to the Governor for appointment. Larry was the only person who applied for the position so the list sent to the Governor had just his name. We were told that when the lawyers heard Larry had applied, they recognized that he was the perfect choice so nobody else put in an application. I was Attorney General at the time and was presented the question of the legality of appointing from a list of one. The statute called for at least two candidates, so would it be appropriate for the Governor to appoint Larry? I said there had to be another name on the list, so it went back to the Judicial Council. Again, Larry was the only person who applied. When presented with the same question a second time, the ruling was that the appointment should proceed.

District Judge Larry Boyle did an outstanding job on the bench and was appointed to the Idaho Supreme Court in 1989. In 1992 he was appointed as U.S. Magistrate Judge for the federal court in Idaho, where he served with distinction for many years. In addition to being a distinguished jurist, Larry was heavily engaged throughout his life in civic and church matters that bettered his community and our state.

Both of these Idahoans were outstanding individuals who acted in the interests of the people of this state. They were both honest and honorable - something we see too little of this day and age in the public arena. They will be missed.

2018, through a dark glass


As was the case a year ago, this space won’t (mostly) predict what will happen next year. But it will ask some questions.

The end of 2017 was marked by a census report that Idaho’s population in the last measured year has grown faster - in percentage - than any other state. Will that continue?

Odds are the growth will keep on, assuming the national economy holds up (not something to take for granted). A thought for 2020: Almost certainly, Idaho will not pick up a third congressional district, though - a thought for 2030 - it likely will a decade hence.

But plenty of other questions for the year ahead are more open-ended.

Will this be another good water year - 2017 was one of the best in a long time - or do early indications follow through with less precipitation? Will a sequence of wet and dry years lead to a rougher wildfire year, after a relatively fortunate 2017?

2017 was a good year for new agribusiness in southern Idaho, especially in the Magic Valley. Is it topping out - because of resources, workforce supply, or other considerations - or will that growth continue for a while longer? The guess here is that it’s not quite done, but about due for a slowdown in growth. We’ll see.

The questions get no more easily predictable in the political arena.

Nationally, 2018 is widely predicted (based in part on recent election results around the country) to run strongly toward Democratic candidates. Even if there’s a national wave, of course, it would have to crest extremely high to sweep over Idaho, or even make a significant difference, and that seems unlikely. Still, in a season when Alabamans can elect a Democrat to the U.S. Senate, should we shut the door on Democratic prospects in Idaho? And even if major offices prove elusive, might Democrats see substantial gains in the legislature or in the courthouses?

In the last few weeks more Democratic candidates for Idaho offices have been surfacing. (Take note, for example, of Paulette Jordan, the legislator from Plummer who now is set to give that party, alongside the Republicans, a competitive primary.) How well will Democrats do in filling their side of the ballot this year? Nationally, the party has been packing ‘em in; what will happen in the Gem State?

Answers to the partisan balance question will come in November. Half a year earlier, in May, we’ll get some resolution to two Republican primary contests, for governor and for the first district U.S. House seat, that already have been running for half a year or so, otherwise known as the place where many people expect the state’s next leaders to be chosen.

These contests have some parallels between them. There are candidates from the establishment Republican world (Brad Little for governor and David Leroy for Congress), and from the outside-activist wing (Raul Labrador and Russell Fulcher, respectively), and candidates a little harder to easily classify. Will we see a consistent thread running between them? Will this year’s Republican primary turn into a battle between slates of candidates the way 2014 did? Will it lead to bitter conflicts the way that one did, or settle out more easily?

2018 stands to be a lively political year. In one way or another, Idaho looks to be a part of that. That much should stand as a reasonable prediction.

Of alternative facts


Just one year ago, in the midst of the diversions of family and holiday, we were anticipating with rapt fascination the day coming in mid-January where control of the world’s richest and most powerful ship of state was going to be handed off to a total unknown.

Those of a mind were determined to give Trump a chance, to see if he would grow into the job and actually see it through with some degree of competence and élan. We weren’t happy, to be sure, but this had all happened before and the country had survived.

We thought of Harry Truman, the small town haberdasher elevated to national prominence by machine politics, who was suddenly thrust into an office for which he was totally unprepared. We thought of Gerald Ford, the back-bencher plucked from obscurity to rescue us from the scandal of Spiro T. Agnew, who unexpectedly found himself in a job he had never wished for in his fondest of dreams. We even remember Ronald Reagan, the B grade movie actor of little demonstrated substance, but with a charm and charisma that had propelled him through the governorship of California and onto the national stage.

All of these men seized the reins of power in the midst of significant economic or domestic or international upheaval and proceeded to guide our country successfully through difficult and challenging times, elevating themselves to places of remarkable heights, far above the marks that history might otherwise have consigned to them. Was there any chance we might eventually say the same of Trump?

This week, in the midst of the same diversions of family and holiday, and after a full year of unbelievable hullaballoo, we can answer that question with conviction. The answer, in a word, is no.

Trump is incapable of following the pattern of any other President in history. While there are some who continue to cling blindly to their optimism, most of us are now convinced that the country is in the hands of an incompetent fool. He is, in the reasoned words of his own Secretary of State, a fucking moron, perhaps even mentally impaired, and very probably a criminal. Not only is there no chance of every seeing the common sense of Harry Truman, or the consensus building aplomb of Gerald Ford, or the charm and charisma of Ronald Reagan, the reality is that it is going to get much, much worse.

Of all of his failings and incompetence, Trump’s willingness to ignore the truth is the worst. His willingness to adopt anything from fabricated versions to bald face lies, and his intransigent refusal to correct even the slightest misstatements mark the complete absence of a moral compass. This failing was suspected of Trump from stories of his prior dealings and business relationships, but the clear demonstration of his complete disregard for the truth has provided incontrovertible evidence of this mortal failing – he is fundamentally a dishonest person, and this has become the standard of what the national press and the rest of the world have come to expect from the Trump White House.

As the year unfolded, Trump’s stupefying aversion to admitting any fact that was even the slightest bit adverse to him or his position, boggled. His penchant for reshaping even the most trivial of events to recast the circumstance into his favor, no matter how obvious the wrong or how easy it might be to ascertain the truth, and to insist that his version be the only acceptable report uttered from any official White House source – also boggled. If there was even the slightest negative cast to whatever event was being examined, a new version reshaped in Trump’s favor became the “alternative fact” – a phrase coined by KellyAnn Conway – to be repeated as often as required with an earnest and sincere look and without apology, and without any attempt to reconcile or harmonize anything to the actual events that really transpired.

To reinforce the distinctions, Trump began accentuating the differences by referring to the national or mainstream press version of events as “fake news” whenever there was an “alternative fact” distinction that Trump preferred. And yet, all of this is pure fiction, made up for the moment, coming from the Whitehouse is of no consequence for nothing of it seems to stick. As incredible as it may seem, these machinations on the part of Trump and his minions seem to be working. Remember Hesse’s predictions to the Third Reich on the value of propaganda?

Gallup Polls has surveyed American trust and confidence in the mass media to report the news fairly and accurately for the last 20 years. When Gallup first asked this question in 1998, over half of both Republicans (52%) and Democrats (53%) had confidence in news organizations generally. Until 2008, the overall percentage of those who generally trusted the media either a great deal or by a fair amount – both Republican and Democrat – was consistently above 50%. During the Obama years, the overall percentage slipped somewhat, to percentages in the mid 40’s, with the Republican responses trending somewhat below the Democrats.

But then, during the campaign of 2016 and first year of the Trump administration in 2017, the bottom fell out. The polls suddenly diverged significantly between Republican and Democratic responses, with Democrats generally staying much higher and indicating continued trust and confidence in the mass media while Republican responses plummeted to levels indicating significant corrosion. In the most recent examination, released in September of 2017 and reporting on polls conducted in March and July of 2017, Gallup reported that, of the Americans who believed the news media generally got the facts right, the Republican responders stood at 14%, the lowest percentage ever, with the Democrats at 62%, an increase well over prior periods.

Trump’s intent here seems obvious: to insulate and inoculate the hard right base from the growing mountain of facts pertaining to Trump’s fundamental incompetence - the boneheaded mistakes, the hair raising risks, and the firehose stream of faulty promises, misrepresentations, exaggerations and just plain pants-on-fire lies pouring out of every opening at the White House.

With his Cabinet sufficiently behind him and Congress in Republican hands, the machinery set forth in the 25th Amendment for declaring him incompetent poses no practical danger. He only has Mueller to worry about, and the danger of impeachment or indictment presented if Mueller finds criminal involvement. But if he can tamp the media response down, and slander Mueller sufficiently to cast doubt in the minds of the public upon anything he might report, he might weather the storm no matter what. If he can hold the public response to Mueller’s action to be nothing more than political outcries, it doesn’t matter what Mueller says; if its impeachment, the House probably won’t act. If it does, the Senate won’t convict. And if he makes it through without being convicted, the hard right might just renominate him anyway, even if Mueller does call him a crook.

If this is not enough to leave you talking to yourself, consider this. If Trump can keep his base insulated or inoculated from the mainstream caterwauling, and if Trump’s constant stream of lies, alternative facts and cries of fake news can wear down the barricades and crack the Independent voter’s level of trust and confidence in the media, or just leave him fed up and determined to go hide until it’s over, quelling the potential strength of any backlash uprising or protest demonstrations even further – Trump might just take the risk and fire Mueller outright, shortstopping the whole works.

And a Ho, Ho, Ho, to you, too.

(photo/Gage Skidmore)

Gaming will be an issue


The surprising and unexpected entry of State Representative Paulette Jordan (D-Plummer) into next May’s gubernatorial primary virtually guarantees that once again gaming in Idaho will be a major, controversial and divisive issue.

The 38-year-old Jordan will NOT be a single issue candidate by any means. Rather, the fact that the three-term member of the legislature is an enrolled member of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe, which owns and operates the successful casino near Worley, is a former member of the Tribal Council, and sits on the boards of two national native gaming organizations guarantees a debate for the simple reason that much of her funding will come from gaming tribes.

The leading beneficiary of her entry has to be Congressman Raul Labrador’s gubernatorial ambitions. First, by challenging presumptive Democratic nominee, millionaire Boise businessman A.J. Balukoff (who spent $3 million of his own dollars running against Governor Otter in 2014), she will cause a number of Democratic and independent voters to abandon plans to switch and vote in the Republican primary.

This could have an adverse impact on Lt. Governor Brad Little’s campaign which quietly was counting on moderates in both parties as well as independents to register as Republicans and cast their votes for him.

Secondly, Jordan’s candidacy will force Balukoff’s campaign to spend money on a primary they had every reason to think theirs would be the only name on the ballot.

Make no mistake about, Jordan is a serious candidate and could even win the Democratic nomination. She is intelligent, articulate and well-educated. A graduate of Spokane’s Gonzaga Prep, she attended the University of Washington on a basketball scholarship. Over the years she has cultivated national Democratic contacts ranging from members of the Democratic National Committee to friends who worked in the administrations of Presidents Carter, Clinton and Obama.

Jordan is the fourth Native American to serve in the Idaho Legislature and the second to run for governor, though the first Native American female to do so. Three of them were or are members of the Coeur d’Alene Tribe (Joseph Garry who served both as a state representative and state senator and former State Representative Jeanne Givens).

The only non-Coeur d’Alene was former attorney general Larry Echohawk, a member of the Pawnee nation, who was the Democratic nominee for Governor in 1992 but narrowly lost to Phil Batt. He served two terms in the Idaho Legislature before winning the attorney general post.

Jordan’s timing may also be good inasmuch as the sexual harassment of women is emerging as a major issue that many expect will inspire more women to get out and vote, and in particular for any female running against a male.

The issue sure to be raised is that of the on again, off again historic horse racing video games that to many sure look like “one-armed bandits”. Many believe this issue breaks for Congressman Labrador, who says it is a form of gambling he would have voted against in 2013. Whether it is actually gaming is still before the courts.

Ahlquist and Little see it differently than Labrador and say the reversal by the Idaho Legislature in 2015 was a breach of faith by the state with businessmen who invested millions and had started hiring people to work at Les Bois in Boise, the Greyhound Park in Post Falls and a facility in Idaho Falls.

Both say they would have vetoed the repeal legislation.

Governor Otter vetoed the repeal legislation but waited too long to exercise his veto. Thus the matter remains in limbo.

As a member in good standing (Coeur d’Alene chair Chief Allan made it clear Jordan would receive tribal support), Jordan will articulate Tribal opposition to the so-called historic racing as an illegal expansion of gaming in Idaho and illegal competition that could threaten the viability of Native owned casinos.

Not willing to concede any voters to Labrador, especially Latter Day Saint voters who traditionally have opposed gaming, Alhquist says he is philosophically opposed to all forms of gambling but will leave it to the courts to resolve whether the historic racing video games constitute gaming.

Whether the issue supersedes Jordan’s other issues remains to be seen, but at a minimum she certainly has livened things up.



In Idaho, there was the Melaleuca response: Bonuses for employees, starting at $500 and rising based on longevity, on occasion of the congressional passage of the Republican tax bill.

Nationally, there were others. Per USA Today: "AT&T and Comcast said they would award one-time $1,000 bonuses to a total of more than 300,000 non-management employees. Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bancorp said they’ll raise their base pay to $15 an hour. Wells Fargo also is setting aside $400 million for charitable donations next year and 2% of its after-tax profit for philanthropy in 2019, while Fifth Third is tossing in a $1,000 bonus for workers. Boeing is moving ahead with $300 million in investments, including $100 million in corporate giving."

It's nice to see a little spreading-the-wealth, on the part of large corporations that can easily afford it. But this is a shiny object only - a gimmick to celebrate the passage of a bill lining their pockets. These bonuses and talk - just talk, for now - of other spending has nothing to do with the substance of the tax bill. It is intended to make people feel good about the bill, hoping there's no real practical connection between the two.

The bill, to begin with, won't take effect for quite some time.

Bill Kristol, a veteran conservative spokesman, on Twitter: "Don’t the $1000 bonuses suggest the big corporations didn’t really need a tax cut for capital investment? If they’re so flush with cash perhaps they didn’t need a tax cut at all? And if we just want to borrow from the future to give out money today, why the corporate middle man?"

He's right that they are flush already. Samuel Bernstein responded, "Corporate profits and liquid assets have never been higher in the United States. And interest rates are near record lows. No shortage of capital. Full stop."

George Ledyard added in the same thread, "We live in a consumer driven economy. Our economic strength was never greater than when the middle class was thriving. That coincided with high Union membership and good wages. ... The middle class has not regained the buying power they had back in 2008 when the crash happened. In fact that the have experienced a several decades long decline. Corporation haven't invested because there isn't enough demand."


Merry Christmas!

Have a great holiday - and we'll be back tomorrow.