LaBeau apologizes after profane e-mail leaks; Will keep job

The president of the Idaho Association of Commerce and Industry has apologized, but will retain his position, after a profanity-laced internal e-mail leaked to members of the Idaho Senate.

The January 13 e-mail from Alex LaBeau addressed Sen. Jeff Siddoway’s remarks on not lowering taxes until the Legislature raises starting pay for Idaho teachers to $40,000.

In the message, LaBeau wrote Siddoway’s statement will make him and his committee irrelevant, and references retaliatory action against Siddoway, “just to be (jerks).”

LaBeau sent the e-mail in reply to a note on Siddoway’s remarks from Idaho Power government affairs director Richard Hahn. IACI lobbyists Jayson Ronk and Zach Hauge were copied on the message.

In an interview with Idaho Reports, LaBeau confirmed he wrote the e-mail and said sending it was a lapse of leadership and judgment. The e-mail was intended to be an internal vent, he said, adding it was still inappropriate.

“Even then I need to check myself if I intend to be the leader I hope to be,” LaBeau said.

LaBeau said he made the retaliation remark in frustration, and IACI has not introduced legislation to punish Siddoway or anyone else.

IACI, which represents major industry in Idaho including JR Simplot, Potlatch Corporation and Hecla Mining, supports tax decreases and a full repeal of the state’s personal property tax. Siddoway is the chairman of the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee.

LaBeau said he offered his resignation on Wednesday, but Mark Dunn, chairman of the IACI board, had declined it.

The IACI Executive Committee met on Thursday and released this statement: “As members of the executive committe of the Idaho Association of Commerce & Industry (IACI), we strongly condemn the language and tone of this communication. We apologize for any harm this may have caused or disrespect that was conveyed to our elected officials and the legislative process. We are confident that this is a one-time lapse in judgment, and based on that continue to support Alex LaBeau as the President of this Association.”

It’s not clear who leaked the e-mail to Senate leadership. LaBeau said he met with legislative leaders on Wednesday to apologize, and no one had asked him to step down.

“I have such tremendous respect for this process,” LaBeau told Idaho Reports, adding his actions fell short of his own expectations of himself.

Senate President Pro Tem Brent Hill said the meeting with LaBeau went well, and confirmed no one asked him to resign. “It’s not our place,” Hill said.

Siddoway declined to comment, and Hahn couldn’t be reached as of Thursday morning.

The text of the e-mail is in the following link. (As mentioned, it contains profanity. You’ve been warned.)

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1MMqDg1GEVq1loUhcBnGCsZBdoXbL7iJEpbE-Op8XOio/edit?usp=sharing

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2008 IEN legislation: “No impact on the General Fund”

Updated 2:40 pm: A few weeks ago, Idaho Reports looked into fiscal notes, and whether there are any repercussions for inaccurate estimates on how a bill might impact the state’s revenue. (The short answer: There are certainly repercussions for the state and taxpayers, but no repercussions for lawmakers and bill sponsors other than dings to their reputation.)

As we’re embroiled in the latest Idaho Education Network drama, it’s worth revisiting the original 2008 legislation that created the network, carried by then-Rep. Bob Nonini and co-sponsored by both Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate.

The fiscal note: “No impact on the General Fund.”

That’s not exactly how it played out.

Here’s a longer break-down: To date, Idaho has appropriated a total of $32.9 million for IEN, of which $11.4 is general fund money for withheld e-rate dollars. (Today, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee voted to take back $3.2 million of that $11.4 million, plus another $1.7 million for the state’s share of broadband services. Read more on today’s JFAC meeting from Idaho Education News.) More general fund money was appropriated for operating costs and personnel costs to the Department of Administration, which manages the IEN. The rest of the IEN money came from the Albertsons Foundation, federal grants and stimulus dollars.

That doesn’t include the $13.3 million in e-rate funds that went directly to Education Networks of America before the money stopped in 2013. And remember, none of this includes unpaid bills to contractors or legal fees. Today, Sen. Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said those who provided services under the void contract could conceivably take the state to court, but otherwise, they have no recourse to collect their money.

“At that point (in 2008) it was sold to us as a concept,” said Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, an original co-sponsor of the 2008 bill. Rep. Maxine Bell, R-Jerome, pointed out the state assumed federal e-rate dollars would cover 75 percent of the IEN costs, and there was a lot of Albertsons money on the table.

The state didn’t start appropriating those dedicated or federal funds for IEN until fiscal year 2011, and didn’t appropriate general fund money until fiscal year 2013. The first money that went toward IEN was from stimulus money in FY 2010.

We’ll have more on the history of IEN on this week’s Idaho Reports, including how we got to here, and what’s next.

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Sen. Werk appointed to Idaho Tax Commission

I was wondering why Sen. Werk took the gavel in the Senate today. This press release might explain it.

GOVERNOR APPOINTS VETERAN DEMOCRATIC SENATOR TO IDAHO STATE TAX COMMISSION VACANCY
            (BOISE) – Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter announced the appointment today of State Senator Elliot Werk to succeed fellow Democrat David Langhorst on the Idaho State Tax Commission.
            Werk, assistant Senate minority leader now serving his seventh two-year term there, also serves on the Local Government and Taxation, Judiciary and Rules, and State Affairs committees in the Senate.
            “I’d like to thank the people of District 17 for the honor of representing them in the Idaho Senate over the last 12 years,” Werk said. “I will miss the Idaho Senate and I look forward to new challenges at the Idaho State Tax Commission.”
            His appointment to the four-member Tax Commission is effective immediately and subject to Senate confirmation. Werk succeeds Langhorst, who left the Tax Commission in August 2014 to become director of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation. Since Langhorst’s term expires March 8 this year, the Senate will consider Werk’s appointment both for the completion of Langhorst’s current term and for a six-year term of his own.
            Werk joins the Tax Commission – led by Chairman Rich Jackson – as Governor Otter seeks to act decisively on recommendations submitted to him by Chairman Jackson and a panel of experts aimed at streamlining and improving the effectiveness, efficiency and governance at the agency.
            “Senator Werk has proven himself to be a devoted public servant who is committed to protecting Idaho taxpayers and improving public confidence in our tax system,” Governor Otter said. “I appreciate his willingness to take on this new challenge.”
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Attorney General Responds To Import of Spent Nuclear Fuel Criticism

A few weeks ago we covered two former Governors who voiced strong concern about a plan to import spent nuclear fuel into Idaho. Governors Phil Batt and Cecil Andrus say allowing commercial spent nuclear fuel into Idaho goes against the spirit of a 1995 settlement agreement under then Governor Batt. The agreement bans import of commercial spent nuclear fuel into the state.

The two at the center of this debate is current Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter and Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Governor Otter explained his position, saying the small amount of nuclear fuel under 150 pounds isn’t enough to be a problem. Adding that scientist and engineers at the Idaho National Laboratory in Eastern Idaho have the expertise to handle it safely.

This week we invited Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to explain how this deal is supposed to work. Here is what he had to say.

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Idaho isn’t alone in gas tax stagnation

The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy notes Idaho is one of 22 states that have gone more than a decade without raising its gas tax. 

Idaho, which last raised the tax in 1995, isn’t even in the top ten in length of time since raising the tax. Alaska has gone almost 50 years, and the federal government hasn’t raised its tax in more than 21 years.

There are a few caveats here. Many states have been more aggressive about securing other types of infrastructure funding, such as registration fees, and four states tax their gas using general sales tax.

Still, it’s an interesting list. And according to the Tax Justice Blog, Idaho isn’t alone in looking to increase the tax this year.

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Wasden: It may be time for state gaming commission

Call a horse a horse.

That’s what Attorney General Lawrence Wasden had to say about Idaho gaming. During an interview with Idaho Reports on Thursday, Wasden said it might be time to establish a gaming commission in Idaho that has regulatory authority. (Watch an excerpt of the interview here.)

In the discussion with Idaho Reports co-host Aaron Kunz, Wasden went over the history of Idaho’s instant horse racing controversy, noting the machines his office said fell within the confines of pari mutuel betting in 2013 aren’t the machines being used today.

Wasden noted the other types of gaming in this state, such as tribal gaming, horse racing and bingo, and said the attorney general has no authority to regulate any of it.

“So the question is do we have gaming in this state? The answer is yes, we do,” Wasden said. “Perhaps the time has come to have a gaming commission that actually then has the authority, ability and power to regulate that.”

“I don’t have the authority to regulate gaming. In fact, when either the citizens pass an initiative or the Legislature passes a statute, my job is to defend that statute whether I agree or disagree,” Wasden continued. “Whether I think it will pass constitutional muster or not, I have the duty to present the legal arguments on behalf of that policy choice embedded into the law.”

For more of Wasden’s interview, watch this week’s Idaho Reports, 8 pm Mountain Time/ 7 pm Pacific Time, tonight on Idaho Public Television. You can also watch on idahoptv.org. 

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A $245 million problem? Not exactly.

Updated 4:21 pm Wednesday, Feb. 11. 

The state may not risk losing as much federal funding as former state senator John Goedde first claimed.

On Tuesday, Idaho Education News reported that if the state fails to give assessment tests to 95 percent of Idaho students, it could lose $245 million in federal funding. At an IPRAC meeting, Goedde, appointed by the governor to help sort through  Idaho Education Network issues, gave the $245 million as another reason the legislature should continue funding the embattled IEN. While IEN isn’t the only broadband provider for all of Idaho’s schools, it is the only option for some.

Where’d that figure come from? According to Tim Corder, special assistant to Superintendent Sherri Ybarra, that’s all of the federal money the state receives for public education, including USDA money for school nutrition programs.

Of that, about $62 million is Title I money, which is directly tied to No Child Left Behind, Corder said. If the state doesn’t comply with the assessment requirement in the waiver agreement, it would initially lose about one percent of that $62 million — money used for administrative costs, according to Corder. One percent of $62 million is $620,000 — which is .26 percent of that $245 million total.

While the state of Idaho wouldn’t lose $245 million overnight, Corder said the state doesn’t want to test how much the federal government would withhold.

“No one’s done that yet and we don’t want to be the first to try,” Corder said.

In a Wednesday afternoon interview with Idaho Reports, Goedde said he got the $245 million figure from Corder, and didn’t know about the breakdown of Title I money. But, he added, the federal government has gone to extreme lengths to get states to comply with requirements before.

“There’s potential that every bit of federal funding could be at risk, and not just education funding,” Goedde said.

There’s more confusion surrounding the requirement. According to Idaho Education News, officials with the Idaho State Department of Education said Idaho must do the tests online, the federal government wouldn’t accept paper tests, and that it was too late to renegotiate terms of the No Child Left Behind waiver.

But Jo Ann Webb, a spokesperson for the United States Department of Education, said that’s not the case.

“The U.S. Department of Education does not require that assessments be online (that’s a state issue). So there must be some confusion,” Webb wrote in an e-mail to Idaho Reports. “Idaho should be submitting a waiver renewal request by March 31, so the state can propose any changes at that time.”

Corder had initially told Idaho Education News that the federal government wouldn’t accept paper tests. In a Wednesday interview with Idaho Reports, Corder said that’s what he had initially been told, but after checking, department staffers couldn’t find the phrase in the NCLB waiver.

Even if the federal government would accept paper tests, Corder added, the state is set up for online assessments only and doesn’t have time to compile a paper test that would meet federal standards before the testing period, which begins at the end of March. “Even if we could, we couldn’t,” he said.

Kelly Everitt, spokesperson for the Idaho State Department of Education, said online assessments are part of the state’s contract with the test provider. Though paper tests might be available, the state wants to use online assessments, Everitt said, which are adaptive to a student’s skills and are a more accurate long-term measure of what he or she knows.

Everitt added the state’s contract with the test provider goes through July, and paper assessments aren’t part of that contract.

As for the renegotiation of the NCLB waiver with the federal government, that applies to next school year, Corder said — meaning it’s too late for the assessment tests this spring.

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