Representative Darrel Bolz reported:
The 2014 legislative session was one that began with some optimism that the economy was on the rebound and would continue to grow. The main area of focus was that of public schools (education). The feeling was that with the Governor’s education task force having completed its work, the legislature could begin to implement those recommendations. There was not an expectation that all of the recommendations would be implemented during this session, primarily due to the cost implications. Some of the recommendations were put into place in the Public School budget, but there remains work to be done both policy and budget wise. Issues such as Medicaid expansion/redesign and transportation were never really brought to the table. There was legislation drafted on both issues, but never progressed past the committee level.
Budget-wise, the FY2015 budget was set at about the level in 2009 prior to the economic downturn. It has been a slow, but steady climb back to that level of state general funding. Even though the total amount of funding is back, the percentages of which agencies get the funding has shifted some. Economic development continues to show improvement although there have been some setbacks as well. The Magic Valley continues to be one of the bright spots in the state as they are able to attract new business ventures. Canyon County is seeing some growth and there is some interest being shown as companies are at least looking at the area.
From a rural aspect, one of the factors that could impact Idaho this year is the water supply. The past month’s rain has been helpful, but may be a case of being too late.
Bob Ford, Senator Crapo’s Office reported:
HOUSING FINANCE REFORM—JOHNSON/CRAPO PROPOSAL
Status quo unacceptable:
- Fannie and Freddie greatly contributed to the housing bubble and financial crisis.
- During the height of the housing bubble, they acted like highly-leveraged hedge funds, holding just 45 cents in capital for every $100 in mortgages they guaranteed.
- When housing prices crashed and the GSEs had too little capital to cover their losses, the result was a historic bailout of nearly $200 billion.
- Fannie and Freddie have been in conservatorship for five years and the government has controlled no less than 95% of the housing finance market in any given years.
- The current system is unstainable and leaves taxpayers exposed to potentially trillions of dollars in liabilities.
- Protect the taxpayer from bearing the cost of a housing downturn.
- Shrink the government footprint and increase the role of the private sector.
- A stable, well-functioning mortgage market comprised of well-underwritten mortgages is crucial to ensuring that qualified borrowers have access to this dream.
- Five years later, housing finance reform remains the most significant piece of unfinished business following the financial crisis.
- Our agreement moves us closer to ending the five-year status quo and beginning the wind down of Fannie and Freddie while protecting taxpayers with strong private capital, building the components for a stable secondary market, and avoiding repeating the mistakes of the past.
- The House, Senate and White House all pushing for reform.
- While they take differing approaches, both bills are thoughtful proposals that include many good, smart ideas that have helped move the debate forward.
- It is time to act.
Jim Werntz, Environmental Protection Agency - Idaho Operations
Waters of the US Proposed Rule: In late March, EPA and the Corps of Engineers issued a joint proposed rule that seeks to reduce the confusion and complexity that arose after the US Supreme Court decisions in 2001 and 2006. The proposed rule is based on the latest peer-reviewed scientific literature. The proposed rule clarifies that most seasonal and rain-dependent streams are protected, and that wetlands near rivers and streams are protected. The proposed rule also preserves the existing Clean Water Act exemptions and exclusions for agricultural activities. It does not cover groundwater nor does it expand jurisdiction over ditches. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 90 days. EPA and the Corps are working to engage stakeholders, to encourage input and comments on the proposed rule.
Idaho is pursuing authorization from EPA for the Clean Water Act NPDES Program: During the 2014 legislative session, House Bill 402 was passed and signed into law. The law provides direction and funding to begin the process to develop a plan for Idaho to obtain authorization from EPA to run the wastewater permitting program (known as NPDES, for National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System program). During the next year, EPA plans to work closely and cooperatively with Idaho to initiate the process for taking on this major federal environmental program.
EPA Region 10 Budget Update:
As with many other federal agencies, EPA has experienced budget cuts in the last several years. The EPA has just completed an early retirement “buy-out” effort, to help accelerate staff attrition that is needed to reduce the size of the workforce. In the last two weeks, 23 people in EPA Region 10 took advantage of these buyouts, including 1 person based in the Idaho office. EPA’s workforce is expected to stabilize by 2015, but the overall reduction in staffing may be 20% down from the staffing levels in 2010
Lori Porreca, Federal Highway Administration reported:
The Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho (COMPASS) is updating their Long Range Transportation Plan for the 2-county MPO area. This is the plan that will guide transportation investments in the Valley for the next 25 years. They are in the middle of their public comment period.
For those in the Treasure Valley please go to: http://www.compassidaho.org/prodserv/cim2040.htm
Please review and make comments.
Stephanie Cook, Idaho National Laboratory, reported:
1. Idaho National Laboratory Contractor Will Operate Lab for Five More Years
March 27, 2014 the U.S. Department of Energy exercised an option in Battelle Energy Alliance's (BEA) original 10-year contract to operate INL for an additional five years. This provides INL and its employees with the continuity required to continue building on the achievements of the past 10 years.
The contract that created INL and was awarded to BEA began Feb, 2005. BEA now will operate INL through Sept, 2019
While there are many successes, one significant success outlined in the BEA contract is the creation of the Center for Advanced Energy Studies (CAES). BEA partnered with the State of Idaho to establish CAES, which has generated nearly $60 million in competitive research opportunities for Idaho's universities and INL since 2008.
2. U.S. Department of Energy, Resumption of Transient Testing Update:
In November of last year the U.S. Department of Energy invited the public to comment on the draft environmental assessment for the resumption of transient testing of nuclear fuels and materials. There were three alternatives presented for consideration:
· Alternative 1: Restart the Transient Reactor Test Facility (TREAT) Reactor at Idaho National Laboratory (INL)
· Alternative 2: Modify the Annular Core Research Reactor (ACRR) at Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico
· Alternative 3: No Action
The public was invited to comment through January 10, 2014. On February 28, 2014 DOE issued a media release that reads "DOE issues finding of no significant impact for the environmental assessment on resumption of transient testing of nuclear fuels and materials at Idaho National Laboratory."
Work is now under way to restart the TREAT reactor at INL to support transient testing of nuclear fuels which is needed to support a carbon-free safe and secure energy future for the United States. Outcomes from transient testing include:
· To develop nuclear fuels that last longer, produce more power and are even safer
· To improve current nuclear power plant performance and sustainability
· To support development of advanced reactor designs requiring new fuel types, different from the ones tested in the past. These new fuels need to be proof-tested in a controlled environment and researched extensively in order to learn how they respond to accident conditions to help guide fuel designs of the future.
Art Beal, Idaho Resource Conservation and Development Association, reported:
Our spring meeting in Gooding was well attended by all Idaho Councils. The council also looked at policies and goals.
In Eastern Idaho the Wildland Urban Interface project is alive and well with 40 partners working in Island Park on a fire survivable community plan.
The Mid Snake has three projects. One is a project to educate communities about fire resistant plants, partly by demonstration plots in several locations. They administer an invasive species check station near Jackpot and administer several coordinated weed management areas.
Southwest Idaho reported on the Idaho Oregon Snake River water trail, their fire mitigation projects, fire wise gardens and the Treasure Valley canopy study.
Three Rivers reported on their fire wise project and the Gem Trail in Aberdeen which is a walking trail.
West Central Highlands is working on woody biomass and its uses. One of the problems encountered is the landfill material has a lot of dirt in it. Another is connecting an economical source with use. They are also working on the Payette River Basin water trail. Some of the work has been done but has not been put on to one source for publication. The Emmett sawmill is about to take on a new owner and is expected to be operational soon. The Forest coalitions seem to be working well.
Wood River has the southern Idaho Bio Control projects in Camas, Gooding, Jerome, and Twin Falls counties where 5-7 youth receive training and learn how to work together. They also learn a very intensive reporting process.
We also hear from Gary Bates, Idaho’s private forester, on future landscape planning projects and how it will be presented.
During the last legislature the Idaho Soil Conversation Districts received some additional funding that will help them take care of the private land (soil) and related resources.
Roni Atkins, USDA – Rural Development reported:
The Farm Bill finally passed which included some rural development energy programs and defined our new rural areas as 35,000 population or less. This means Kuna, Rexburg, Moscow, and Post Falls will remain eligible areas. Originally these areas were going to lose. We are also going to add the City of Lewiston as an eligible rural area effective October 1, 2014 as the population according to the 2010 census was under 35,000.
Brian Dale, HUD, reported:
The free Fair Housing training session will be held in Boise on May 15th. More information may be found on their website http://fairhousingforum.org.
Randy Shroll, Idaho Department of Commerce reported:
The new Tax Reimbursement Incentive, passed this last session by the Legislature, is designed to enhance Idaho’s competitiveness and provide the tools we need to accelerate our economic growth. This performance-based incentive features a tax credit of up to 30% on new state tax revenues generated by companies seeking to expand in or relocate to the state of Idaho.
The credit is not granted until after the taxes (Income, Sales and Payroll) are actually paid. This enables the state to obtain the funds prior to any reimbursement.
The company must create jobs and pay taxes due before the credit would be received.
The tax credit percentage – anywhere from 1% to 30% - and terms – anywhere from 1 to 15 years – would be negotiated based on the types of jobs created, regional economic impact and return on investment to the state.
New jobs must be full-time jobs that pay wages equal to or above the average wage in the county in which the business is located. Local governments must make a financial commitment to support the project, i.e. local match required. To be eligible, a company must create twenty (20) jobs within a rural area or fifty (50) jobs in an urban area. The incentive is not limited to new companies coming to the state. Any existing Idaho company can access this tool to accelerate their growth.
Marjorie Schmaehl, Idaho Development, reported:
She and Harty continue to put forth their effort and private funds to help the small community of Kamiah. They are now concentrating on building a large resort on their property outside of town. The infrastructure is now in place. They recently got a new chef at the Hearthstone Bakery who is one of the northwest finest. Outside of their personal activity, the forest service has moved a district office into Kamiah.
Chris Wood, USDA – Farm Service Agency, reported:
Recently Chris was appointed to be a member on a USDA departmental subcommittee which has only five FSA representatives on it. It is a national level partnership of Rural Development, Farm Service Agency, and several other USDA agencies. The committee is working to include Small Business Administration on the committee. They are in the early stages of defining what resources would help new farmers in their early stages of planning their operation. They want to be a one stop shop information resource for new farmers. The “one-stop” resource for New Farmers is will also include with county extension offices and other local rural entities.
Catie Bennett, U.S. Small Business Administration, reported:
The Woman’s Small Business Contracting Conference will be held April 23rd at the Idaho Department of Transportation. This will inform women how to apply for a government contract but is open to anyone interested in government contracts.
Kerrie Hurd, U.S. Small Business Administration, reported:
During the week of March 17, 2014, The Small Business Administration received a field accountability review where every area of our operation is reviewed and the office received exceptional remarks. During this review, the IRP’s community review process was discussed with the review team, who was very impressed with both the partnerships and the process. The Sacramento District is also rural and the Sacramento District Director is going to take the process back and see how the partnerships in his area can adapt a similar model.
Representative Donna Pence, Idaho State Legislature, reported:
Representative Pence is on the interim water committee and has been associated with the Recharge Program in varies capacities. The State has funding for the Recharge Program and is getting it in order to utilize it. There are several possible Recharge projects. The State is working through various funding mechanisms to buy the Simplot water rights for Mountain Home Air Force Base. These rights will be important in keeping the base in Idaho. There has also been a water call by Rangen’s Fish Hatchery in Hagerman. An order to cease pumping from wells was issued by Director Spackman of the Department of Water Resources, but it has been suspended temporarily to work out how water can be delivered to Rangen’s Hatchery to meet their water right.
Joe Herring, Region IV Development Association, reported:
Joe informed the board that IRP is not paying for Stephanie Border’s facilitator fee today. Four members on the board are contributing to cover her fee using RIVDA as a vehicle to a nonprofit 501c3 and will able to count it as tax deductible. If you would like to contribute to IRP through RIVDA, Vickie, Mike or Joe will gladly take your check.
Ann Joslin, Idaho Commission for Libraries, reported:
The Idaho Commission for Libraries is a self-governed agency with the board appointed by the Governor. Their purpose is to help build the capacity of libraries to better serve their clientele. Recently their focus has been on broadband in public libraries. Seventy percent of Idaho’s libraries are the only source of free internet service to use in their communities. While the recent BTOP grant upgraded the broadband in 55 of the least connected library buildings, many still have inadequate speed to meet their community needs. The Commission is pursuing state funding to help those public libraries to increase their broadband capacities.
The International City Manager Association and the National Association of City Planners have recognized through research that public libraries can play a major role in both community and economic development. The new library in Lewiston is a good example of this. They worked for 20 years to pass a bond for the library. Now that the new library is open, the downtown stores have greatly benefited from the library location.
The Idaho Commission for Libraries recently received a grant from the FIDRA Foundation. With this grant and partnering with University of Idaho Extension Service, College of Southern Idaho, the Department of Finance and other financial entities, 12 public libraries will offer classes on financial literacy to low income folks in southwest Idaho.
As part of the Commission’s BTOP grant, the libraries in rural Idaho and the Idaho Department of Labor partnered so they can refer their clientele back and forth to each other. The regional labor offices that don’t have computers can refer the people to the library for job searches and applications. The library can help the people develop their computer skills while looking for jobs. In addition, the Department of Labor’s Summer Youth Corps program is matching young people with public libraries to gain work skills by teaching digital computer skills in the library.
Pat Barclay, Idaho Council on Industry and Environment, reported:
The next coming event is their Earth Day art contest with awards being presented on April 24th. The theme this year is Sustainable Water Today and Water Future Use.
ICIE’s weekly radio programs have been changed to Wednesdays from 3:00-4:00pm. There were too many Monday holidays to continue having it on Mondays. Pat requested to contact her if you have any ideas for topics for the program.
They are working on several rules since the legislature is out. Another item they are working on is a fish consumption toxic survey which will last a year since there is no data available. It will show how much fish one can eat before getting sick from the elements in the water.