Legislators look to halt state's plan to own businesses


Rep. Neil Anderson, R-Blackfoot, says it would be useful to have a full accounting of all federal funds going to local school districts, not just the federal funds that are appropriated through the Legislature annually.

Legislators from both sides of the aisle want to put the state of Idaho out of business.

Reps. Grant Burgoyne, D-Boise, John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, and Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, are working on legislation aimed at preventing the state Department of Lands from owning businesses, like the self-storage facility on Maple Grove Road in Boise, that the state bought last August.

The Department of Lands has traditionally dealt primarily in grazing and forest lands, but the agency is looking to become more involved in commercial ventures and real estate in metropolitan areas. The goal is to maximize profits, which go to to elementary schools, and the University of Idaho, among other beneficiaries.

Vander Woude said the land board is “putting the wrong values first” in turning to running businesses to make as much money as possible for schools.

“Philosophically we have to say this is wrong,” Vander Woude told IdahoReporter.com Tuesday. “It just doesn’t fit … we’re trying to make sure that legally it’s something they can’t do.”

Burgoyne said he’s “at a loss to understand” the state land board’s business strategy.

“The government should avoid becoming involved in business and competing with private enterprise.”

In a previous interview, Burgoyne called the policy “a piece of socialism.”

According to the state constitution, the Department of Lands must manage endowment holdings in the way that will make the most money and the department has decided that means operating more businesses and commercial properties, including lands leased to geothermal concerns. The department wants to become less dependent on timber leases, which now represent 85 percent of the returns on endowment lands.

The pro tempore of the Senate, Sen. Brent Hill, R-Rexburg, said in a previous interview with IdahoReporter.com the commercial strategy doesn’t sit well with him, but that there’s not an easy answer.

“I don’t want to be critical of the state land board. It’s very difficult. They’re just doing their job. But I think we need to be very careful in the public sector to try not to compete with the private sector. The storage business is a symptom. They need to reset their own parameters. It’s somewhere in between (nothing and the storage business) …  It’s hard to evaluate the thing, but I still think there needs to be a fundamental desire to try to avoid it.”

Department of Lands Director George Bacon said in an e-mail that he was not aware of pending legislation and did not offer comment. Bob Cooper, a spokesman for Attorney General Lawrence Wasden, said the AG would have to see legislation before commenting on it.  Wasden, as attorney general, is a member of the state land board. The constitution also puts the governor, state controller, secretary of state, and state superintendent of schools on the panel.

Burgoyne and Vander Woude said they aren’t sure when exactly they will bring a proposed bill forward.

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The state land board has set the stage for expansion of business interests, The state land board has set the stage for expansion of business interests
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