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FCC, bailout, holdback

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FCC in boise

Citydesk took a $40 government coupon and bought a digital converter for the old television this week. It cost about $20 cash, on top of the digital welfare check. Coincidentally, Federal Communications Commissioner Robert McDowell made a stop in Boise this week to tout the upcoming digital conversion and encourage local broadcasters to prepare an infomercial on how to hook up a converter box to an older set so that no television watcher is left behind.

The average, free, over-the-air viewer is going to have many more options, McDowell told a City Hall audience.

That very night, we plugged in the box and were quite pleased with the crystal clear reception on every station except Channel 2 (which did not come in well before we went digital, either). With digital, cable-phobes actually get more free channels, including four different public television streams.

But we still have some questions for the FCC. What does the public gain as broadcasters quadruple or sextuple their holdings? What public use of the old analog spectrum is being considered? And will broadcasters be held accountable for more local programming, quality programming or public service programming?

Minnick, Sali Agree; Sort Of

From citydesk's District 1 correspondent Deanna Darr: Turns out both Republican Rep. Bill Sali and his Democratic congressional challenger Walt Minnick agree on one thing—that the proposed Congressional bailout of the faltering economy was a bad idea. The two political competitors just have very different reasons.

Sali joined the majority of the House of Representatives on Monday, Sept. 29, when he voted against the proposed $700-billon bailout plan—a decision that sent the Dow Jones spiraling downward in its worst single-day loss in history­.

For Sali, the issue is putting the burden on taxpayers. Instead of having the government buy up the bad investments slogging the national and global credit system, he is in favor of providing tax incentives to encourage private industry to do it instead.

"We need a solution that does not jeopardize taxpayers and does not fundamentally change the relationship [between government and business]," said Sali's spokesman Wayne Hoffman.

Sali is part of a group working on its own plan. Among the possibilities is eliminating or reducing taxes on private investors willing to buy bad investments.

Hoffman said the coalition is also looking at ways to modify fair-value accounting, but said the details of that option are still being worked through.

"There's a lot of really fresh ideas out there that weren't considered before, that need to be considered," Hoffman said.

And while Minnick agrees that the proposal before Congress was a poor one, he still believes that the government needs to step in to protect the integrity of markets both in the United States and around the world. The key to that is providing liquidity, allowing financial institutions to continue the lending cycle, Minnick said.

But rather than a pay-out, Minnick supports short-term loans "not taking bad assets off of questionable banks."

If the loans aren't repaid on time, he feels the corporations should be treated like everyone else, and the loan should be foreclosed. He also strongly believes that the CEOs of companies that opt for governmental help should not receive any financial benefit.

"If the taxpayers were going to be asked to step in and help, the CEOs shouldn't have a plug nickle in termination pay," Minnick said. "There's no termination pay for a CEO who has ruined the company."

Minnick, who ran two large companies, including serving as CEO of Trus Joist, said he would never have expected to benefit if he had ruined one of his companies.

"If I had ruined my company, the board would make sure I was ousted on my ear," he said.

Adding larger regulatory reform is also imperative to any plan, Minnick said. Among his suggestions is consolidating the number of agencies that have oversight of the financial industry and making sure every aspect of the industry has some federal regulation.

"It's very hard to get regulatory reform through Congress," he said. "If you miss this train out of the station, it's going to be very hard to get it through later."

Minnick said Sali's idea of tax incentives for private industry "sounds like nonsense" and doesn't address the current issue. "We need to keep the banking industry functioning," he said.

Both Minnick and Sali agree that something needs to happen soon. Hoffman said Sali and other coalition members are working as fast as they can and will hopefully have a new proposal available to the public soon.

Minnick believes time is imperative to stopping the situation from getting any worse.

"We are in a recession," he said. "We need to act quickly [to] prevent a global depression."

State agencies tighten belts

Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter announced a 1 percent holdback in all state agencies last week, but also asked directors to reserve another 1.5 percent of their budgets, just in case. So the $27.3 million holdback could be read as some $58 million that government cannot spend.

"Our budget situation is manageable," Otter said during a Sept. 26 press conference. "I take small relief that our economy here in Idaho is much better compared to my colleagues in other states."

Otter chose not to raid rainy day funds—except in the case of public schools—to make up the difference.

"It's definitely raining," said Wayne Hammon, Division of Financial Management administrator. "The question is how long will the storm last."

Otter dismissed a question from citydesk on why building projects, like the capitol restoration that he attempted to halt at one point, were not put on hold, saying that is one-time money, not general fund.

Otter said the holdback would not affect essential services, but at Health and Welfare, the director is looking at cuts in Medicaid payments to health care providers to make up $5.4 million in general fund cuts (which are coupled with a loss of some $10.2 million in federal matching funds).

Other programs on the chopping block include an increase in day-care reimbursement rates and an anti-STD media campaign.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2008, 4,177 U.S. service members (including 31 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 3,381 in combat and 796 from non-combat-related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 30,680. Since the last issue, 13 U.S. soldiers died.

Since President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, 4,027 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 87,919 and 95,954.

Source: iraqbodycount.net

COST OF IRAQ WAR: $558,471,455,464

Source: costofwar.com

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