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Roundtable Discussions

Representative Darrel Bolz reported:
The legislative session has begun with a target date to adjourn of March 21st.  This being an election year, it appears that legislators will want to return home as soon as possible to do their campaigning.  With that in mind, it appears that some major issues will be left on the table for future sessions out of fear that it might jeopardize campaigns.  Issues such as transportation funding and Medicaid re-design/expansion appear to be left out of the discussion for this session.

The budget will again be an issue of much discussion.  Funding for public schools will again be a main focus point following the Governor’s education task force recommendations.  Those recommendations along with the issue of Common Core will draw a lot of attention.  The reversion of the Idaho Correctional Center back to state operation from being under a private contractor will also garner a lot of discussion.  Tied with that will be the recommendations from the Criminal Justice Reinvestment Interim Committee, a study done in cooperation with the Council of State Governments, aimed at reducing the number of inmates being incarcerated.  Another issue studied during the interim was that of the Public Defender system in Idaho.  The system is not currently meeting Constitutional requirements in regards to providing public defense for the indigent.  It is yet to be seen whether there will be an effort to repeal the Idaho Health Care Exchange.  There has been some discussion from those opposed to the Exchange that that may be a possibility.

All in all look for a session that will more than likely be relatively short with major issues that could be considered to affect re-election to be left hanging.

Tim Peterson, Office of Senator Jim Risch reported:
Let me start with a brief recap, since we didn’t have a meeting because of the government shutdown. Since last October we saw the government shutdown for the first time in over 15 years. The disagreement in operation without a budget and spending levels came to a head and resulted in the shutdown. The rollout of Obamacare was another driver in seeing the government shutdown and more issues continue to arise with Obamacare. And if that isn’t enough, Harry Reid went “nuclear” changing over 200 years of Senate procedures that protect the minority from the rule of the majority. Undoubtedly there will be consequences. Additionally, legislation work with the Farm Bill is moving forward and there is hope for final passage by the end of the month. For the first time in 5 years actual discussion of a budget with a joint house conference committee have taken place allowing the appropriators to do their jobs and bring out proposed spending bills.

Currently, the Senate is working on unemployment insurance and how to fund this program. It is a short term agreement, but the fact is we are seeing this program turning from insurance to entitlement and it is troubling. The Senator continues to field correspondence on the issues and is representing his constituents accurately. His work as ranking member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee is ongoing helping to streamline regulations and limit the federal red tape for our driving economic engine in Idaho.

I am continuing to put out our monthly newsletter with funding resources and I encourage you to send me information that you would like included so we can get that distributed across the state.

Jim Werntz, EPA-Idaho Operations, reported:
Budget:  Agreement means more certainty in 2014/2015 than 2013.  The details of how the budget affects program funding categories is yet to be established (Agency Operating Plan).  Region 10 and the entire Agency are focused on reducing the size of our workforce, and are trying to accomplish these reductions through early retirements and buyouts.  We are hopeful we will be able to manage our budget to avoid employee furloughs.

Clean Water Act, NPDES Authorization: Idaho is one of only 4 states that does not run the Clean Water Act permitting program.  The NPDES (National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System) Program addresses wastewater discharges to surface waters from cities, industries, construction sites, and large animal feedlots.  We expect that an IACI-sponsored bill may be developed in this Idaho Legislature to provide a serious step forward towards Idaho taking on the Clean Water Act NPDES permitting program.  There are many issues to resolve, including legislative and regulatory changes, and how the program would be funded in Idaho.  EPA Region 10 has expertise in how to help Idaho towards NPDES authorization, since we are currently in that later stages of a phased 6-year transition of the NPDES program from EPA to Alaska.

Bob Ford, Office of Senator Mike Crapo, reported:
The conference committee for the Farm Bill is expected to have a conference report done soon.  This will mean that the compromise bill can go back to each chamber for a vote for final passage.

The twelve appropriations committees are working on an omnibus bill to fund the government for the balance of this fiscal year at the levels agreed to in the discussions just before the end of the calendar year.  This will mean that the committees will be able to move some money around to offset the across-the-board cuts by the sequester.  Not a lot of new money will be available but we can now better put it where it is most needed.

Other Issues Senator Crapo is working on include:  Trying to mitigate the impact of the Volker Rule on the Community Banks; working on the new National Flood Insurance rate implementation, and restructuring Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to lessen taxpayer exposure in the event of another housing downturn.

Art Beal, Idaho Association of RC&D Councils, reported:
Resource Conservation and Development councils in the state are still active and are working hard to provide 501C-3 service to their areas.  High Country RC&D received a grant from the National RC&D to host a “Wildland Urban Interface Conference” to help decision makers set policy, create ordinances and codes involving fire pre suppression, and prevention.  Southwest Idaho is involved in establishing water trails on the Snake, Payette, and Weiser Rivers.  The intent of water trails is to provide access to the rivers where access already exists.  Other councils are working on various projects within their areas dealing with food, market, value added projects, Cooperative Weed Management areas, and forest coalition projects.

Councils are making a real point to keep county commissioners and city officials on their boards as they have passion for continued recreation and economic growth in their counties.

West Central Highlands is working with woody biomass and looking for profitable ways to dispose of it.  If you have ideas and suggestions let me know.

On the Soil Conservation Districts issues and challenges I will say just a word or two.  As many of you know we have been pushing no till farming for economic reasons.  It seems that there is another side to the issue, one of soil health.  The soil is full of microbes and bacteria and continued plowing out destroys most of these bugs.  These bugs are the nutrient factory for other plant health.  We are looking at plants that enhance bug growth when the soil is dormant for production agriculture.  The districts have the challenge of educating farmers and ranchers on the benefits of soil management.  Also districts are working hard on irrigation water management as every drop that leaves the land takes chemical and nutrients with it costing the producer and polluting the runoff.

Dwight Johnson, Idaho Department of Labor, reported:  
The Idaho Department of Labor welcomes their new director, Ken Edmonds.

Idaho businesses will save $75 million this year as the state lowers its unemployment insurance tax on business payrolls.  The average tax rate businesses will pay this year is 1.9% which applies to the first $35,200 paid to each worker.  That tax rate had been at the state maximum level of 3.3% from 2010 to 2012 before dropping to 2.75% in 2013.  The unemployment trust had $390 million at the end of December, far surpassing the $139 million in regular unemployment benefits paid out the state.

The Department of Labor with the support of the Department of Commerce has awarded $1.8 million in special worker training grants to Boise State University, North Idaho College and Idaho State University.  BSU will receive $1 million from the Workforce Development Training Fund to expand its computer science program from 30 graduates to 60 graduates a year.  BSU must put up a 25% cash match for the grant.  North Idaho College will receive $281,036 from the fund to develop a Wood Products Manufacturing Center for Excellence to train workers on industrial controls, saw filing and log scaling to fill openings created by existing workers retiring or leaving the workforce for other reasons.  Idaho State University will receive $532,180 to develop the Treasure Valley Anatomy and Physiology Laboratories.  The lab will expand the physical therapy and occupational therapy programs.  The Industry Sector Grant Initiative is the first major departure in the use of the Workforce Development Training fund since it was created in 1996.   Grants are made to educational institutions that partner with at least three Idaho businesses to train workers in a target occupation critical to those businesses.  The businesses must contribute at least 25% of the grant award.

Partnerships also are at the heart of efforts to improve our Workforce Development Training Fund program.  You can expect to see more targeted use of grants for training employees not just for individual businesses, but for the market-driven growth of industry sectors that add value to Idaho’s economy.

The Governor at his State of the State encouraged Idaho commitment to education excellence and workforce readiness with K-through-Career.  It is a straightforward but profound way of describing our goals for building out and maintaining a continuum of education and training opportunities.

Randy Shroll, Idaho Department of Commerce, reported:
The Department is still in the middle of a major reorganization where we are going from four divisions to two divisions.  The two divisions, for the current time being, are being referred to as the Business Development and Marketing Division and the Industry and Community Services Division.  The Business Development and Marketing Division will be responsible for Tourism, Sales and Marketing, Business Attraction and the IGEM Program.  The Industry and Community Services Division will house the Community Development Block Grant Program, Community Support and Existing Business Development, the Procurement Technical Assistance Center (PTAC), and International Business Development.

Two new Division Administrators have recently been named by the Director:
Matt Borud will be joining Commerce as the new administrator for the Business Development and Marketing Team.  He has a back ground in Marketing and Sales and was recently employed by Balihoo, a local company providing marketing automated and software services.

Chrissy Bowers will join Commerce as the new administrator of the Industry and Community Services Group.  She has a background in private-sector including former positions at Scentsy, Hewlett-Packard, and St. Lukes.

We’re seeing a lot of very positive economic trends with the November seasonally adjusted unemployment rate dropping to 6.1 percent, the largest one-month decline on record.  The November six-tenths of a percentage point decline was twice the national rate decrease which dropped from 7.3 percent to 7 percent.  About 3,800 more Idahoans were at work in November with total unemployed dropping to 47,300, the lowest level since last spring.  Last year, Idaho’s unemployment rate was 6.5 percent with over 50,000 people out of work.  This year, 1000 more people were working than in November 2012.

Another positive trend is Housing starts.  Housing starts improved to nearly 7,200 units in 2012 and an estimated 9,000 units for 2013.  The housing sector is anticipated to continue to recover over the next few years, growing to nearly 16,100 starts by 2017.  The construction sector is a direct beneficiary of the improving housing sector.  For the first time in four years, construction employment increased 2.7% in 2012, followed by an estimated 7.3% growth in 2013.

Private nongoods-producing employment, which includes health care, is expected to have increased 2.25% in 2013.  The state’s private education and health care sector proved to be the most resilient employer over the last few years and should enjoy constant job growth over the next three to four years.  July 2013 over July 2013 year to year site visits, by companies looking to relocate or expand into Idaho, was up over 10%.  Overall leads are down which means the quality of the leads are getting better.  They are also more educated about our state as to where they are looking to locate versus just looking at the state as a whole.

 We are also seeing major expansions from existing companies including Simplot in Caldwell and McCain Foods with a $230 million investment in Burley.

Maureen Grisham, Idaho Transportation Department, reported:
ITD launched a new technical assistance program on Monday.  It is a statewide competitive program and any community may apply.  The technical assistance is for small scale planning such as analyzing the need for sidewalks or bike lanes in school areas, identifying truck routes or parking and/or conduct project planning activities such as an environmental scan or traffic analysis.   The goal of this program is to improve a funded projects success at completion.  Another program at ITD is the Community Choices for Idaho which is for infrastructure projects.  They have received 58 pre-applications that are being reviewed now.   

Charlotte Eberlein, University of Idaho Extension, reported
Wim Braack, Community Development Extension Educator, has left Valley County and moved to California.  UI Extension will be conducting interviews at the end of January to fill his position.

UI Extension is one of five Extension systems selected nationally to pilot a new health and nutrition education program for underserved youth in urban and rural areas.  The program will focus on nutrition education, food safety, basic food preparation skills, basic money management, and the importance of physical activity to maintaining good health.  UI Extension is looking for partners for this pilot program, which will benefit 2,500 youth.

UI Extension also has received funding to expand its youth financial literacy programs.

Roni Atkins, USDA – Rural Development, reported:   
The USDA is hoping the Farm Bill passes as they have some bio-energy programs in it.  They are on the fence on their eligible rural area housing program designations.  That is coming up on January 15th when they will know if Kuna, Post Falls, and Rexburg stay eligible or ineligible due to their population limits.  The lenders ask them every day about their status.

USDA – Rural Development is behind in their housing compared to last year at this time.  This is because of the furlough back in October and also the weather.  There are also employee cuts in Rural Development.  Currently Idaho is still 4 FTEs over.  Idaho had 70½ at the beginning of this administration.  They are now down to 50 employees.  Positions are not being replaced as people leave.  Those who are left, fill in for the vacancies.

Kerrie Hurd, Idaho Small Business Administration, reported:
Kerrie handed out information showing a listing by county of the number of loans and the total dollar amount the Small Business Administration guaranteed for FY2013 for both their 7A Program and 504 Program.  They have streamlined their paperwork process where applicants and lenders now use the same standard forms for all programs.  Several smaller, underutilized programs expired at the end of their authorizations, reducing the number of programs and costs associated with administering them.  Between now and the Sept. 30, 2014, fees are waived on all loans that are $150,000 and under.  The majority of Idaho’s SBA guarantees fall under this threshold, benefiting Idaho’s small businesses and Idaho’s banks because lenders also pay a fee which reduces the actual interest earned on the loan compared to the stated notes interest rate.  Another streamlining process is SBA uses organizational email boxes associated with various stages of a loan life cycle.  All lenders can now use these organizational email boxes reducing the effect of when staff leave or transition to a different area within the agency.  Well known Patriot Express program expired December 31, and replaced with the Veterans Advantage, which applies to our regular SBA Express program.  SBA waives the guaranty fee for the borrower, but doesn’t include any additional guaranty percentages, fee reductions, or increased loan amount for the lender.

Pat Barclay, Idaho Council on Industry and Environment, reported:
ICIE’s weekly radio program has been on the air for two years.  Recently it has changed from Mondays at noon to Wednesday afternoons at 3:00p.m.

ICIE is doing a weekly legislative blog on environment and agriculture committees.  They are also working with DEQ's rule making over fish consumption safety.  This rule deals with water quality and how much fish an individual can eat safely.   It involves a survey to find out how much fish people eat.  Ity is important to get accurate information before changing water quality standards.  If the number is set too high, could have an impact on business and industry by requiring water quality standards may not be attainable.

Another issue ICIE is involved with is the Food Safety Modernization Act that was passed in 2010.  A bill has been written regarding the quality of irrigation water that is physically impossible to meet because the water quality isn’t there naturally to start.  ICIE is part of a committee that has been putting together comments on the produce rules.

The Gold Room Workshop (Lincoln Memorial Auditorium) topic this year will be “The Federal, State, Local Government Partnership, Is It Working in Idaho.”  This seminar will discuss possible solutions and collaborations. 

Erik Kingston, Idaho Housing and Finance Association, reported:   
Erik handed out a pamphlet explaining their website www.housingidaho.com.  This website connects renters to landlords and landlords can list their rentals free of charge.

The 2013 campaign for Avenues for Hope ended at midnight 12/31. Donations will help 31 nonprofits provide critical housing and supportive services to Idahoans in need.  Idaho Housing and Finance Association sponsors and coordinates this effort and was joined in 2013 by ten other sponsors.  This was an online endeavor raising $27,000 the first year, $47,000 the second year, and $111,000 this past year. IHFA’s board matches the contributions each year, bringing this year’s total to over $231,000.

Erik shared a brochure explaining Ramp Up Idaho.  Ramp Up Idaho is a diverse group of business, transportation, housing, community and economic development professionals exploring the economic impact of accessible retail, commercial and housing infrastructure throughout Idaho.  Although covered businesses risk fines of up to $10,000 for noncompliance should someone decide to file a complaint, the Ramp Up Idaho team aims to focus on the economic and employment benefits associated with access.  After bringing a business into compliance, a business owner may qualify for a tax deduction and credit.  More information can be found at their website www.RampUpIdaho.org.

Lorie Porreca, Federal Highway Administration, reported:
They are doing a series of webinars about transportation to education the public on the transportation development process.  Lorie will send Vickie more information about these to forward to the board. 

The final draft for the statewide plan will be going out soon for public comment.  She will send Vickie more information on that to forward to the board members. 

Barry Daniels, Elwood Staffing, reported:
SOS Staffing has been purchased by Elwood Staffing which services 500 clients in Idaho.  They have 235 offices across the United States.  Because companies are nervous because of Obamacare, Barry’s type of industry is growing.  Some companies rather than upgrade their insurance to meet the qualifications for their employees, would rather pay the penalty.  Because of the current unemployment situation some over qualified folks who are not on unemployment or assistance, are being hired by fast food businesses.  Some fast food businesses are exploring hiring senior employees to keep their money on the table by not paying insurance on this group of people.