House passes governor’s Opportunity Fund proposal, 59-8

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[post_thumbnail] Rep. Pete Nielsen debates against House Bill 100 on the floor.

The Idaho House of Representatives has passed Gov. Butch Otter’s agenda to offer “financial assistance” to businesses, and to empower government staffers to have oversight over the private records of those businesses.

“We’re going to transfer 3 million bucks in a year, when we’re not sure how much money we’re actually going to have to be budgeted on many of the other things,” said Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home. Nielsen voted no, but the measure passed overwhelmingly, 59-8.

House Bill 100, known as the Idaho Opportunity Fund, provides funds to be spent “to retain, expand or attract quality jobs in industries deemed vital to the health of the local and statewide economy.” As it is written, the bill would fund $3 million worth of grants to the cities, to be used for infrastructure enhancements.

“I was weary of this,” noted Rep. Brandon Hixon, R-Caldwell. “We’ve seen things like this that didn’t work well at all, like what happened with the Solyndra Corporation at the federal level. But this is different. This bill requires that companies that receive funds have skin in the game.” Hixon voted yes on the measure.

Expressing a different view was Rep. Steven Harris, R-Meridian, who feels such actions violate the proper role of government. “When government gets involved with private enterprise, we mess with the natural supply and demand forces in the market,” he told IdahoReporter.com after he voted against the measure. “We’re taking a relatively small amount of money, in this case, and saying that we can do good things with it. But it’s not clear what we might be competing against if we move forward with this. We shouldn’t be doing this, and in any event, this is not the proper role of government.”

Earlier this week, Jeff Sayer, head of the Idaho Department of Commerce, told members of the House Business Committee that “it’s important to note that in order for the fund to be effective, it needs a community match, and we’re asking local communities for a match.”

Sayer argued that the bill would help build infrastructure throughout Idaho, especially in rural areas, noting that “some communities can contribute infrastructure, some can contribute other resources. We want the state to be a partner with the local community.”

“This does help to build infrastructure,” said Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise. “I believe that is appropriate, and that’s why I voted for it.”

HB 100 imposes several restrictions and demands on business owners who apply for, and ultimately receive, the funds. Included in this list is a provision “allowing the director or the local government to inspect all records of the business” in question.

“I am not aware of that (provision),” Hixon told IdahoReporter.com about the restrictions and demands matter. “I’m sure Sayer (director of the commerce department) can clarify that.”

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