Memo to: State Treasurer Julie Ellsworth.
Subject: Taxpayer stewardship.
Status: House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley has accused you of making a “ridiculous” “false claim” and a “gross misstatement of fact” — in other words, lying — because you say his plans to kick you out of your state Capitol quarters to make office space for House members who will be in Boise for only 90 days a year will cost $10 million.
As Betsy Russell of the Idaho Press reported during the Labor Day weekend, the speaker may have you on the details.
Sure, the 2019 plan — contained in House Bill 289 — spoke of spending $10.6 million. But that also included $1.96 million to repurchase a nearby bank building the state sold off in 2016.
When the Senate rejected that bill, the House quickly came up with three replacements:
l Senate Bill 1210, which provided $3.89 million for the “first phase,” while anticipating another $3.2 million the following year.
The Senate also gave that one the boot.
l SB 1211, which allocated $529,000 to move you and your staff.
It died on a procedural move.
l SB 1212, which provided the $1.96 million for the bank building acquisition.
The Senate rejected this measure as well.
Nonetheless, it puts the cost of moving you out and the House members in at somewhere near $7.1 million.
Or maybe it’s more.
“I’m not committed to any of those numbers, frankly,” Bedke told Russell. “I don’t think anyone’s married to any of those numbers. Those were ballpark numbers.”
Until the state gets an architectural design and then seeks bids, Bedke says those are “just very rough estimates.”
All of which is going to sound a lot like political spin to ordinary citizens. Whether it’s $7.1 million, $10 million or $15 million, you’ve got the political high ground.
Idaho is chronically short of money for everything. Its schools may be the most underfunded in the country. Idaho’s colleges and universities are so desperate for tuition dollars they collected virus-spreading students on campus for in-person classes despite risking more COVID-19 outbreaks.
Yet the Legislature believes it is entitled to drain millions of dollars for its own creature comforts.
Of course, you can’t play champion of the taxpayer when you match Bedke dollar for dollar on hiring lawyers to fight this battle out in court.
As of Aug. 31, Russell reported, you’ve spent $205,488 on your legal team. The Legislature has allocated $313,914.
That’s more than half-a-million bucks and the case is just now going to the Idaho Supreme Court.
Recommendation: Consider making a strategic reversal. Stop wasting taxpayers’ money. Make this offer to Bedke and legislative leaders: You’ll vacate your offices the instant they guarantee that not one dime of public money will be spent on their vanity project. Let them go to private special interests to pay for the construction of their offices.
Insist on transparency.
Emblazed on the front of each office should be a bronze plaque designating the current occupant and who paid for it.
l Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, brought to you by the United Daughters of the Confederacy.
l Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens, brought to you by Juul Labs Inc., maker of e-cigarettes.
l Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, brought to you by the Idaho Freedom Foundation.
l Rep. Brent Crane, R-Nampa, brought to you by (Ron) Crane Alarm Service.
l Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, brought to you by Medical Recovery Services, which hounds people for medical debt.
l Rep. Chad Christensen, R-Ammon, brought to you by 3 Percenters of Idaho.
l Rep. Barbara Ehardt, R-Idaho Falls, brought to you by Americans for Truth About Homosexuality.
Conclusion: If they take you up on it, of course you’ll have to move on. But a pyrrhic victory for the House allows you to introduce yourself to ordinary Idahoans who don’t know a state treasurer from a state controller.
Who knows? You just might have the biggest Idaho political moment in the two decades since then-Congressman C.L. “Butch” Otter voted against the Patriot Act.
And you know where he wound up. — M.T.