Thursday, February 25, 2010

Federal Government Gives Idaho Hopefuls Two Thumbs Down

Posted By on Thu, Feb 25, 2010 at 4:20 PM

The Panhandle Area Council's proposal for a fiber optic network was rejected by the Rural Utilities Service, according to project manager Ernie Bray. He's anxious to make adjustments and reapply for round two, but there's a huge problem: The deadline for round two is Monday, March 15, and he doesn't know why RUS denied the application.

"The problem is, we got an e-mail saying we were rejected. We've been in phase two due diligence for weeks and gotten no word," he said. "Just all of a sudden, nope, you're rejected. But we don't have a letter yet."

Bray is frustrated because he knows the two federal government agencies responsible for awarding and distributing broadband stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are going to be getting stronger applications because of more clear priorities for round two. But he doesn't know what RUS didn't like about his round one materials.

"You're thrown out on your ear two weeks before the new deadline, and they still haven't given us the reason," he said. "Plus a lot of stakeholders only meet once a month. How can you make your second application better? You can't."

City of Ammon IT director Bruce Patterson told BW that the National Telecommunications and Information Administration denied its application, as well.

"We intend to revise it and try and comply with the second round priorities and resubmit," he said.

Mary DeWalt, director of Ada Community Library is not planning to reapply for public computer center funds after also receiving a rejection letter from NTIA.

"We'll still have public access computers in the new [Lake Hazel] branch," she wrote in an e-mail. "Just not as many and no special equipment or formal instruction setting, unless we can find another way."

DeWalt previously asked BW to clarify for the record that no one helped the library prepare its application. In a Feb. 10 news feature, I wrote, "According to a loud chorus of applicants, Rep. Walt Minnick's office took the lead in helping the Idaho dozen prepare applications."

However, DeWalt agreed that the Congressional staff was good about communicating information about the process.

While the Utah Education Network was awarded $13 million this week, BW was not able to confirm that any of the 12 Idaho-based applications had been funded. All notifications from the two agencies are expected to be made by Monday, March 1.

BW has been working with RUS to secure an interview with Chairman Jonathan Adelstein. Look for updates on citydesk as the story progresses.

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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Obama recovery funds in Idaho

Posted By on Wed, May 27, 2009 at 11:10 AM

677e/1243444972-recovery.jpgThe Obama Administration released a report on the first 100 days of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act today. The report claims that 150,000 jobs have already been created across the nation.

But only one Idaho project is mentioned in the document.

91. Recovery Act funding will enable the Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho to keep running, and help clients find jobs. “The Epilepsy Foundation of Idaho has found its second life thanks to the federal stimulus money. After losing its state funding during the recently completed legislative session, the foundation had faced the prospects of closing its Idaho Falls office and cutting services to the 15,000 Idahoans with epilepsy..." On May 8, [foundation director Marcia L. Karakas] learned her nonprofit organization received a $115,000 one-time grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The foundation works with nearly 2,000 people with epilepsy. Its goal is to ensure people who have seizures are able to participate in all life experiences, including working. [Idaho Falls Post Register, 5/20/09]

We asked Mayor Dave last week at his Boise Young Professionals talk what federal stimulus monies had been spent by the city already and the answer was not totally clear. First he ordered another beer from the bar at the Basque Center. Then he spoke about lots of stuff that has been promised—road resurfacing, a footbridge between Garden City and Boise, sidewalks for the eastside of downtown and $2 million for energy efficiency block grants.

But we want to know: where is the cash. Show us the money. is trying to accomplish this, but it's still not clear when it gets spent. now has info up for whistle blowers, but no contact info for check writers.

Maybe we're still thinking we got some ARRA funds ... Arrrr

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Thursday, April 30, 2009

Biden 101

Posted By on Thu, Apr 30, 2009 at 10:48 AM

Lateblogging again, on the 101st day of the Obama administration. citydesk participated in a call for regional reporters with Vice President Joe Biden yesterday. We never got a chance to ask our question, but here are two clips from the phone presser that we found interesting.

A reporter from the Salt Lake Tribune asked why is still so lame despite promises of unheard of transparency with stimulus funds. The site, which promises to track stimulus dollars down to the village level, is still a collection of press releases and fancy graphics.

Biden, who we understand is personally very interested in this site, had an answer to which we can relate: he blamed the Web guys. (Sorry about the mono.)

The final question for the Veep had to do with healthcare reform. Biden talked about not supporting single payer during the campaign, but said negotiations are in the works on a healthcare reform plan.

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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ada County wants stimulus money for garbage-to-fuel project

Posted By on Thu, Mar 26, 2009 at 8:53 AM

Ada County plans to apply to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality for federal stimulus package funds, Commissioner Fred Tilman said at a town hall meeting last night.

Ada County wants the funds to expand its landfill, and Tilman said the landfill is a perfect candidate for funds earmarked for renewable energy projects. The landfill has a project under way to produce fuel from the methane gas given off by garbage.

"We have one of the best alternative fuel projects in the whole Pacific Northwest, in my opinion," Tilman said.

Ada County applied for stimulus money from Gov. Otter as soon as Idaho received its funding, Tilman said. "We didn't make the short list," he said. "We didn't even make the list."

But Ada County still has opportunities to apply again. Most of Idaho's aid was sent to state agencies like the Idaho Transportation Department and DEQ, and those agencies will disburse funds to projects around the state.

"Every dollar we can get that way is less money we have to get from you, the taxpayer," Tilman said.

Commissioner Sharon Ullman said Otter's focus on rural Idaho might prevent Ada County from getting funding, however. "I had privilege of hearing the governor speak a week ago," she said. "He was going to focus on rural Idaho. We have some rural areas of Ada County, but we can't submit that and claim we are rural."

The town hall meeting, at Meridian City Hall, was the first in a new effort by commissioners to take their show on the road. Other topics discussed included open space, property taxes, liquor laws, and election consolidation. Not quite two dozen people attended the event.

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Friday, March 13, 2009

Facebook Idaho wants bike lanes

Posted By on Fri, Mar 13, 2009 at 10:00 AM

This just in: A new facebook group is calling for bike lanes to be part of Idaho's stimulus plan.

In 24 hours since the governor's budget dude, Wayne Hammon, dissed bike lanes, 133 people have signed on. Alas, it does not appear that Uncle Butch has a Facebook page, and he's where the buck stops on stimulus.

Yesterday we chatted briefly with Idaho Transportation Department Chief Pam Lowe about the stimulus money she will divvy up and Lowe said that $18 million of it will go toward the department's Public Transportation Division.

About half of that was mandated for public transportation in the stimulus bill, but the Idaho Transportation Board also directed some $9 million to bus shelters and replacement of busses across the state.

That's not saying much about bike lanes, but we did overhear Hammon in the Annex halls telling Suzanne Craig (yes, that Craig)  that he's glad Lucky 13 had moved out of the North End. Hammon later told us the same story and asked us not to report it, but since we heard it twice and since it's funny as hell, we're breaking our non-promise.

Hey Hammon, there's a bike lane all the way out to your favorite pizza join in District 19. Use it.

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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bikes and budgets

Posted By on Thu, Mar 12, 2009 at 8:40 AM

Gov. Otter budget director Wayne Hammon just finished addressing the legislative budget committee this morning, but he started a little fight about bike lanes in his opening comments.

"This $5 million will not build a bike path," Hammond assured the committee.

About $5 million of the stimulus funding for transportation is to be used for "enhancements," which include landscaping, bike paths, or water features, according to Hammon's explanation. Otter has decided to put that $5 million toward what Hammond first called landscaping and then self-edited to "banks on off-ramps" and "sprinklers to keep dust down." The money will go toward "enhancing" road projects that are already funded and in progress to offset some of the costs (check the link above to see if banking and sprinkling would qualify as enhancements).

Sen. Nicole LeFavour, who often walks to work, pointed out that there were safety issues with roads (which the $5 million in enhancements would seek to address) and that people in Idaho who can't afford to drive must resort to cycling. She criticized his disparaging comments toward bike paths.

Hammon replied cheekily: “The future of Idaho is not contained in the North End,” and added that many poeple in Idaho are not able to bike to work.

LeFavour's larger point - that the focus on roads appears to be at the expense of public education - will hopefully spur even more debate.

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Quick turnaround on Otter stimulus dole

Posted By on Wed, Mar 11, 2009 at 4:54 PM

Uncle Butch has released his plan for spending $1.24 billion in Idaho-bound stimulus money, five days before his own self-imposed deadline.

It turned out that the only wiggle room he had -- the $44 million in State Fiscal Stability Fund money -- was pretty easy to dispatch.

"Spending the SFSF money for drinking water, waste water, and state highway needs is the quickest way to put the most Idahoans back to work," Otter declared in his report.

Rather than pick and choose projects (many of the 1,000+ requests the governor received from cities and counties were for this kind of infrastructure), Otter chose to give $15 million for clean water and clean water funds, managed by the Department of Environmental Quality and the remaining nearly $30 million to the Idaho Transportation Department for state highway improvements.

It's going to take us a little while to go through the info. The Legislature will be briefed tomorrow morning through the Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (which has a handy stimulus site of its own, by the way) and the governor will take questions from the media later Thursday morning.

It looks like Otter is endorsing Superintendent Tom Luna's plans for the education funds (which, as we understand it, mean a cut to education spending, to be filled in this year by the windfall) and Health and Welfare's plans for its monies, as well as the suggestions of many other agencies:
"The Governor recommends accepting this one-time federal assistance and that the Legislature review its implementation as part of the routine budget-setting process. Each entity already has in place the necessary structure, governance and reporting mechanisms to ensure the successful and efficient use of these additional funds."
The announcement kind of preempts this week's Unda', though we still made some good points, especially for all the poor schmos who thought they might get some from Butch. But, like we said, lots of good ideas folks -- including you Micron -- keep checking that deal.

In the photos sent by Otter spokesman Jon Hanian, everyone is smiling. Use your imaginations ...

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Monday, March 9, 2009

A stimulating bunch

Posted By on Mon, Mar 9, 2009 at 12:06 PM

Idaho's Stimulus Executive Committee met this morning to begin advising Gov. Otter on how to spend Idaho's share of the state's estimated $1 billion in Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds.

During the two hour meeting, three former governors (picture at right sent by Otter's office) and five former budget directors--four of whom are registered lobbyists--were given copies of the stimulus proposals assembled by Otter's budget office during the past week.

According to Otter spokesman, Jon Hanian, they also, "were briefed on the legal parameters built around the acceptance of stimulus funds. Committee members will be reviewing those documents between now and the next meeting of the committee that is scheduled for Wednesday."

Stimulus proposals can be reviewed here.

Meanwhile, the City of Boise has also set up its own stimulus progress page and it's own committee. The Boise Valley is already in line for almost $55 million in transportation funding through COMPASS, the regional transit authority, and has asked Otter for $7.6 million in state funds as well.

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Thursday, March 5, 2009

Get yer stimulus, right here

Posted By on Thu, Mar 5, 2009 at 5:01 PM

In a rare feat of transparency, Gov. C. L. Butch Otter has put all of the state stimulus proposals online, within about 24 hours of receiving them.

You can check out 1. how state agencies would like to spend stimulus money and 2. how everyone (school districts and cities) and their mother (Micron) wants to spend stimulus money.

Check it out for yourself!

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Otter on fed stimulus: It's complicated

Posted By on Thu, Jan 8, 2009 at 3:16 PM

Gov. C. L. "Butch" Otter, addressing a media scrum assembled by Boise's Associated Press shop this morning, said that he's not sure he'd vote for an "economic stimulus" package were he still in Congress today.

"If I were in Congress and I looked at it, someone would have to be more convincing than they have been and I probably would say no," Otter said.

Still, Otter spoke at length about his priorities should Congress pass a bunch of cash to the states for infrastructure projects. The state has assembled some $2.4 billion [EDIT A spreadsheet provided by Otter's office indicates just under $2 billion in projects] in "shovel ready" projects that could use an infusion of federal dollars, though estimates for Idaho's share of the stimulus now hover around $75- to $100 million. The Idaho Transportation Department yesterday, put together its own wish-list, which in some cases did not jive with Otter's.

President-elect Barack Obama offered some further justifications for massive borrowing and spending today: “Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy–where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs, which leads to even less spending,” Obama said, as quoted by the Christian Science Monitor.

Obama's proposal, which could total $800 billion according to the CSM, but may be shrinking by the day, will include money for alternative energy projects, broadband and computerized medical records.

“Yes, we’ll put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects. But we’ll also do more to retrofit America for a global economy," Obama said.

Many states are going right for new asphalt in their lists, ignoring the calls for repair work. Idaho Smart Growth executive director Rachel Winer suggested yesterday that the state consider using the money for transportation projects aside from just road building, including upping the percentage that goes to repair already crumbling roads.

Winer gave Idaho credit for making its stimulus request public, one of only 16 states that has done so.

Otter was asked whether this anticipatory federal stimuli might be used as an excuse by certain lawmakers to stave off road funding needs for another year, to which he responded: "I was always looking for a way to say no to an increase in taxes..." And then added that no, the stimulus will be one-time projects and Idaho Transportation Department still needs new revenue sources.

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