Lobbyists found

Transportation bucks, geothermal utility expansion on city's agenda


The city of Boise is ready to have a little more stroke in the halls of power, albeit belatedly. The City Council was ready Tuesday night to approve contracts for lobbyists totaling about $100,000. Lobbyists for Idaho's largest city will work in the Idaho Statehouse and in the nation's capital.

The Idaho Legislature began work January 8. As many lawmakers know, bills and initiatives with a chance of success are those that were drafted weeks or even months ago.

But for the Statehouse, Boise City has tapped a well-placed lobbying group, and a lobbyist with direct ties to leadership. For $40,000, Lyn Darrington of Boise firm The Gallatin Group, will stalk the Capitol. She is the daughter of Sen. Denton Darrington, now in his 13th term at the Idaho Legislature. The Declo Republican is the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and serves on the Health and Welfare and State Affairs committees.

Lyn Darrington already has several other clients, according to the Idaho Secretary of State's Office. Her roster includes Regence Blue Shield of Idaho and AMI Semiconductors of Pocatello, among others.

Gov. Butch Otter has already signaled he's ready to help Boise with a budget allocation for a detoxification center. In his State of the State address, he committed $865,000 toward the project, something Bieter has been pushing for.

On the federal side, the city was set to authorize a $60,000 contract for Victoria Cram, a lobbyist with Ball Janik LLP, a firm out of Washington, D.C., but with offices in the Northwest. The firm has been working for Boise's downtown redevelopment entity, the Capital City Development Corporation, for the past four years. Ball Janik's other municipal clients include the cities of Portland, Oregon, and Las Vegas, Nevada.

City leaders hope Cram can help them pull some federal earmarks out of the budget-making processes in Washington, D.C.

"There are federal dollars out there that we deserve a shot at," said Michael Zuzel, a spokesman for Mayor Dave Bieter.

The city is hoping to expand the use of its geothermal power system that provides heat for City Hall, the Ada County Courthouse and other downtown buildings (a similar system heats the State Capital). Zuzel said city leaders hope to one day expand the utility's reach to Boise State's campus, across the Boise River. The expansion is something they've tried to do for several years, Zuzel said, but were hampered by cash. The utility currently pays for itself, he said, but is no cash cow, yet.

"It's basically a self-sustaining operation," Zuzel said.

The dream, then, is to entice federal budget writers to help the city crank up the utility to serve more customers.

"We think that's an absolute win-win," Zuzel said. "It's exactly the kind of energy project the Bush Administration is shooting for. What it would do is make us a cleaner city."

Whether their new lobbyists will have a chance to help is unclear. As of last week, budget writers in the Idaho Legislature had already begun to signal their agreement with Otter's meat-and-potatoes spending plan, one without many frills in it. The city's other dream, of expanding its transit system with a local-option tax, seems further distant. While Otter did talk about lowering the supermajority vote to 60 percent to help fund new community colleges, he made no mention of increased funding for mass transit of any form.