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Balukoff: Analysis of Otter’s schedule shows he’s a ‘part-time governor’

Oct. 31, 2014 9:52 a.m. - Updated: 9:54 a.m.

A.J. Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor of Idaho, has analyzed a year’s worth of incumbent GOP Gov. Butch Otter’s detailed calendars, and concluded that Otter is a “part-time governor,” working only 27 hours a week in 2013, or 32.8 if receptions and travel time are added in. “Gov. Otter treats his job like he’s in semi-retirement,” Balukoff said in a statement today. “Many Idahoans are working 50 or 60 or more hours a week in two or three jobs and still barely scraping by. Idaho needs and deserves a governor who’s on the job more than part-time.”

In January of 2011, then-Idaho Statesman reporter Dan Popkey did a similar analysis, comparing Otter’s schedule for 2011 to 2009, before he was re-elected for his second term. He found that in 2011, Otter largely took Mondays off; took 41 personal days, a 28 percent increase over two years earlier; and his official appointments were down 21 percent and unofficial appointments down 64 percent.

Otter had no comment on the report then; so far today, his campaign has had no comment on Balukoff’s analysis. You can see Balukoff’s full analysis here, and his full statement here.


Jones named in guardianship dispute

Oct. 31, 2014 8:35 a.m. - Updated: 8:40 a.m.

Jana Jones, the Democratic candidate for state superintendent of schools, has been named in a guardianship dispute with her brother-in-law, Idaho Education News reports today. The brother-in-law, Michael Von Jones of Twin Falls, charges that Jones and her husband convinced his parents to write off a loan made to the couple for a business, and charges that the parents need a guardian and conservator. A doctor found that the couple was capable of living independently, but the brother-in-law is pressing for a second opinion; the other siblings and the parents are objecting to the brother-in-law’s move. Al Barrus, attorney for Jones' in-laws, Ross V. and Lorraina Jones, called the brother-in-law's filing a “smear campaign.”

John Ohman, an attorney for Jones and her husband, Ross J. Jones, said the brother-in-law is engaging in a “mean-spirited” attempt at political sabotage; he served Jones with court papers in the sealed case at a political debate in Twin Falls. “Jana Jones has no involvement in the guardianship or conservatorship at all,” Ohman told EdNews reporter Kevin Richert. Jana Jones told Richert she was “disgusted” by the move, and said of her husband’s parents, “They are very supportive of me, and they always have been.” The couple has contributed $1,500 to her campaign, including a $1,000 contribution on Oct. 18. Richert’s full report is online here.



Idaho guv debate most heated yet

Oct. 30, 2014 9:21 p.m. - Updated: Oct. 31, 7:26 a.m.

Idaho's final gubernatorial debate showcased the most heated exchanges yet between the candidates seeking the seat, the AP reports. GOP Gov. Butch Otter faced off against Democratic candidate A.J. Balukoff and Libertarian candidate John Bujak. The three agreed on little, writes AP reporter Kimberlee Kruesi, and often interrupted the moderator and debate panel to respond to zingers thrown out by their opponents, while discussing education, the economy and same-sex marriage. Click below for the AP's full report.

Also, the Twin Falls Times-News has a full report here on the debate, headlined, “Otter on defensive on CCA in last debate.” Reporter Nathan Brown writes that both Balukoff and Bujak slammed Otter's handling of the private prison matter, including a $1 million settlement with Corrections Corp. of America releasing the company from civil liability for understaffing the state's largest prison and overbilling the state, and his handling of the state's current troubled contract for the Idaho Education Network, a broadband network linking the state's high schools. Otter said he doesn't know if the CCA settlement was fair. “I'll know when the FBI is done investigating,” he said.

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A night of lively political debates in Idaho…

Oct. 30, 2014 8:50 p.m. - Updated: 8:58 p.m.

Here’s a link to my full story at spokesman.com on tonight’s lieutenant governor debate, the only debate in the race between GOP Lt. Gov. Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley. In the polite but pointed televised debate, Little and Marley outlined sharply differing views of how Idaho’s faring as it works to recover from a big economic downturn.

The lieutenant governor debate, which ran 30 minutes, followed a heated debate in the governor’s race, in which GOP incumbent Butch Otter, Libertarian John Bujak and Democrat A.J. Balukoff clashed on everything from Idaho’s private prison debacle to education to jobs. Among the interesting moments: Otter referred at one point to his opponents by a combined name: “Balujak.” After Bujak was asked about his legal woes in Canyon County – which resulted in multiple acquittals – he said, “I’m surprised that I get the questions about scandal, with Gov. Otter standing next to me.” Balukoff called for scrapping the troubled contract for the Idaho Education Network: “Undo that contract, rebid it,” he said.

Otter said Idaho’s never been able to meet its constitutional mandate to adequately fund schools because of the state’s rural nature, and only now with initiatives like the IEN is it beginning to bring more uniformity to education. Balukoff and Bujak both disagreed; Balukoff said Idaho did a pretty good job funding school operations before the 2006 law that shifted funding from property taxes to the sales tax.

Otter said he’d sign a bill to add the words “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” to the Idaho Human Rights Act, if lawmakers send it to his desk, but said he’s “not ready to surrender” on same-sex marriage. Bujak said, “At this point the ship has sailed. … You’re just throwing good money after bad.”  Balukoff asked, “Friends, is our state better off under Gov. Otter? The answer is no.”

Meanwhile, the two candidates for state superintendent of schools, Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones, met for their final debate – this one organized and run by high school students in Idaho Falls. Idaho Education News reporter Clark Corbin has a full report here.



Candidates draw lots before tonight’s gubernatorial debate

Oct. 30, 2014 5:31 p.m. - Updated: 9:04 p.m.

Prior to the start of tonight's final debate in the governor's race, the candidates - Gov. Butch Otter, Libertarian John Bujak and Democrat A.J. Balukoff - drew to determine the order for their opening and closing remarks; Bruce Reichert, executive producer at Idaho Public TV, used his vintage white cowboy hat to hold the lots. Tonight's debate runs 90 minutes and starts at 7 p.m. I'm on the reporter panel, along with Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News and Rocky Barker of the Idaho Statesman; Melissa Davlin of Idaho Public TV is the moderator.

Tonight's gubernatorial debate will be followed by the lieutenant governor debate between incumbent Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley. Check here later for links to full coverage of both debates. 


Candidates for governor face off in final debate tonight

Oct. 30, 2014 3 p.m. - Updated: 3:55 p.m.

The final debate in Idaho’s governor’s race is tonight at 7 p.m. on Idaho Public Television. It’s part of the “Idaho Debates,” co-sponsored by the Idaho Press Club and the League of Women Voters of Idaho. Tonight’s debate will run for 90 minutes and feature three candidates: GOP Gov. Butch Otter, who is seeking a third term; Democratic challenger A.J. Balukoff; and Libertarian challenger John Bujak.

After the governor’s debate, the candidates for Idaho lieutenant governor, incumbent Republican Brad Little and Democratic challenger Bert Marley, will face off in a 30-minute debate at 8:30 p.m.

The Idaho Debates conclude on Sunday with the final matchup, between 2nd District Congressman Mike Simpson and Democratic challenger – and former 2nd District congressman – Richard Stallings. That debate will air at 7 p.m.

After they’re broadcast, the Idaho Debates are available for viewing online here. That includes all seven debates – in the races for governor, lieutenant governor, 1st and 2nd District congressional races, state treasurer, Secretary of State, and state superintendent of schools. An eighth debate had been scheduled in the U.S. Senate race between GOP Sen. Jim Risch and Democratic challenger Nels Mitchell, but Risch declined to participate. Risch did agree to a single debate against Mitchell on Boise TV state KTVB; that debate can be seen online here.


Sandpoint tech firm approved for big state tax break for expansion

Oct. 30, 2014 11:41 a.m. - Updated: 12:03 p.m.

Kochava, a high-tech company that launched in Sandpoint in 2011, how now been approved for the same type of state Tax Reimbursement Incentive that Amy’s Kitchen received yesterday for a new plant in Pocatello, the state of Idaho and city of Sandpoint announced today. The firm plans to add 35 new employees in the coming months and 50 over the next five years; it will get a rebate of 28 percent of its state corporate income, sales and payroll taxes for the next five years.

Kochava had 26 employees in Sandpoint in June; a year earlier, it had just eight. The new tax break, approved by lawmakers this year, started July 1; it’s for new or expanding companies that will add at least 20 jobs in rural areas or at least 50 in urban areas, if the jobs pay at least the county average wage. The incentive can be for up to 30 percent of a firm’s state corporate income, sales and payroll taxes for up to 15 years; a state commission decides who gets how much.

The first recipient was SkyWest, for a new facility in Boise; the second was frozen food producer Amy’s Kitchen, which announced yesterday that it will move into an abandoned Heinz plant in Pocatello. That firm also was awarded a 75 percent break on its property taxes by the local county commissioners; no property tax break has been announced for Kochava. Amy’s Kitchen was awarded a 26 percent tax rebate on its state taxes for 15 years. Skywest got a 25 percent tax break for 12 years. Some economists say tax breaks like this don't work, as the growth would come anyway; Northwest Nazarene University economist Peter Crabb told the Idaho Statesman today, “We're giving away the farm again.”

Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, said of the Kochava announcement, “This is great news! This is exactly what I hoped would be the outcome of my support for the governor’s initiative – growing jobs of existing businesses right here at home.” Click below for the state’s full news release from Gov. Butch Otter’s office.

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Politics in North Idaho county ‘not fun any more’ amid disaffection, splits…

Oct. 30, 2014 9:42 a.m. - Updated: 9:44 a.m.

Bonner County is seeking disaffection and splits within its Republican Party, Bonner Bee correspondent David Gunter writes today, in an extensive piece examining the state of politics in the county and how they reflect the state. “I’ve heard the comment from some longtime Republicans that, ‘This isn’t fun any more,’” Bonner County Republican Central Committee Chairman Danielle Ahrens told the Bee. The full article is online here.


In-depth ‘In Crisis’ series examines shortfalls in Idaho’s mental health care system

Oct. 30, 2014 9:35 a.m. - Updated: 12:49 p.m.

The Idaho Statesman and Boise State Public Radio are running an extensive, five-part reporting project this week on Idaho’s mental health system, titled, “In Crisis.” Among the revelations so far: Involuntary mental commitment cases in the state rose from 2,337 in 2007 to 4,686 in 2013. The state is short on both treatment facilities and providers, and its suicide rate is 48 percent higher than the national average. More than 22 percent of uninsured adults who don’t qualify for Medicaid now – but would if the state expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act – were in “serious psychological distress.” And prisons and jails are among the state’s top mental health care providers.

The series also reported that Idaho's per-capita spending on mental health was the nation's lowest except for Puerto Rico at $37, but the state Department of Health & Welfare disputes that figure, saying a glitch in how data was examined for a Kaiser Family Foundation report comparing states left out part of Idaho's spending, which H&W says actually came to $143.56 for fiscal year 2010, above the national average of $120.56. You can see the full series, which continues tomorrow, online here and here; it includes audio, video, data and more.


Tax breaks help lure food company to Pocatello

Oct. 30, 2014 8:48 a.m. - Updated: 8:51 a.m.

Gov. Butch Otter was in Pocatello yesterday to announce that Amy’s Kitchen, a manufacturer of frozen vegetarian food, will move into the vacant H.J. Heinz plant there, lured in part by the state’s new Tax Reimbursement Incentive Act. Amy’s Kitchen will get rebates on 26 percent of its state corporate income, sales and payroll taxes for 15 years. It also will get a 75 percent break on its property taxes, approved by the Bannock County Board of Commissioners, on the plant and any future investments.

Amy’s expects to hire 200 people in the coming months at salaries of just over $33,000 a year, slightly over the county’s average wage, and could employ up to 1,000 people within 15 years. The Heinz plant formerly had 400 workers.

Idaho Statesman reporter Zach Kyle reports today that the state tax incentive for Amy’s is estimated at $6.7 million. The new tax reimbursement incentive law took effect July 1; Skywest was its first recipient, for a plant in Boise. State Commerce Director Jeff Sayer told Kyle that Idaho competed with New Mexico to win the Amy’s plant; and that the state is now negotiating similar tax incentives with companies considering relocating or expanding in Post Falls and Sandpoint.

Two economists told the Statesman that tax incentives don’t work, and companies getting the breaks might have come to Idaho anyway. “We’re giving away the farm again,” said Peter Crabb, an economics professor at Northwest Nazarene University. Kyle’s full report is online here.

Otter, in a news release, said the plant is scheduled to open in December, and called it “exciting news for both the community and the state.” Bannock County Commission Chairman Howard Manwaring said, “It’s a win-win for everyone involved.”

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