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Several Idaho lawmakers genuflected reverently at the feet of Micron Technology last week, introducing a pair of bills that would effectively eliminate taxation on any new Micron facilities. The first bill, HB-260, was introduced by longtime corporate pseudo-lobbyist Rep. Dolores Crow (R-Nampa). It would exempt any business with a market value of greater than $700 million from having to pay property taxes on property above and beyond that value, calling all such companies "significant capital investments."

The second bill, HB-261, was introduced by Bruce Newcomb (R-Burley), to exempt certain businesses from sales and use taxes-in particular, businesses who engage in "research and development," and especially research and development taking place in "clean rooms." Both bills match up perfectly with a recent proposal pushed by Micron lobbyists and officials, who have said that without the significant tax breaks Boise would not be considered for new Micron production facilities. They also admitted that any local Micron expansion would not necessarily translate to new jobs for Boiseans, but Crow nonetheless is willing to take the bait.

"It's a different world than it was 10 years ago," she explained to a local television news agency. "You have to court these companies to come in and stay."

Over a month after residents of Atlanta, Idaho discovered extensive motor oil and diesel fuel leaks on roads in and around their town, the responsible party has cleaned up the mess, according to the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

A bulldozer owned by the mining company Atlanta Gold Corp had created the leaks while preparing roads for work on a proposed 350-acre cyanide heap-leach gold mine. After neighbors of the spills complained to DEQ on January 26, a DEQ agent visited the town and took almost 60 pictures of puddles, stains and chemical trails on seven miles of roads around the town. The department instructed the company to clean up the spill, but as of mid-February residents of Atlanta still complained to BW that efforts had only been made to either hide or ignore the fuel. They also indicated that the company's negligent attitude gave them little hope for the safety of the mine, proposed to be located in close proximity to the Boise River watershed.

Finally, when DEQ agent Mark Van Kleek visited Atlanta last Friday, February 25, the contaminated snow, ice and dirt had been largely cleaned up and gathered in approximately 30 five-gallon buckets. Van Kleek told BW that while a small number of "fist-sized" stains remained in snow-banks south of Atlanta, the mining company had made significant improvements. "I feel comfortable that they addressed it," Van Kleek said, "and I really spent a lot of time driving around trying to find something."

In other local mining news, DEQ waste management coordinator Bruce Schuld told BW on Monday, February 28 that a decision to either approve or deny a cyanidation permit for a proposed gold mine 15 miles east of Boise will be released by Friday, March 5. The decision comes after a long and contentious period of public comment on the mine, highlighted by a month-long postponement of the deadline for public comment due to dozens of detailed correspondences to DEQ from concerned Treasure Valley citizens and neighbors of the mine. Schuld reported he has worked in recent weeks with the mining company to produce over 200 pages of point-by-point replies to each writer's concerns, and that the public had been responsible for bringing several important safety concerns to light about the proposed facility.

Proving that you're nobody until somebody screws you on the back of their car, the Idaho Senate approved a slew of new specialty license plates commemorating Idaho's small liberal arts and religious colleges. After a 23-10 vote in the Senate, the House will now revue whether Albertson College of Idaho, Northwest Nazarene University and Brigham Young University-Idaho should be granted the decorative plates which had previously only been granted to public universities.

Since 1990, when the tri-colored "Idaho Centennial" plate, the first Idaho specialty plate, was introduced, over two dozen varieties have been created to help honor veterans, acknowledge classic cars and fund a variety of designated state programs. Currently, the gamut runs from "Famous Potatoes" to "Former Prisoner of War," but as of yet religious institutions had not been included in the selection. Hallelujah.

The Idaho Foodbank spoke out formally this week against the extensive cuts to food stamp and nutritional programs listed in President Bush's proposed 2006 federal budget. Supporting the objection was the recent release of a lengthy report by the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C., in which Idaho's hunger situation is shown to be heavily dependent on federal aid. For instance, our state received $37 million of federal reimbursement just for school breakfast and lunch programs from 2003 through 2004, to support the 39.4 percent of Idaho students receiving free or reduced-price lunches. Idaho ranks 30th nationally in the number of its children reliant on free meals.

Even more tellingly, the number of Idahoans participating in the food stamp program rose 57 percent over the last three years, far faster than the U.S. average of 39 percent. Over $90 million in federal funding was designated for Idaho's food stamps program in 2003 and 2004, but the program still only reached between 44 and 53 percent of eligible persons-the 48th worst record nationally. In Bush's budget, $1 billion would be cut from these nutritional programs over the next 10 years.

"We're concerned that the proposals in Washington, D.C., could move in the wrong direction and push more people who currently rely on Federal programs into the position of regularly needing help from our network of local food pantries," the Foodbank Board of Directors stated in a press release. "Idaho needs to reach more people with food stamps and other Federal programs, not fewer, as is currently anticipated with the budget proposal."

Idaho Fish and Game officers in Southeast Idaho put down a female wolf on Thursday, February 24 after finding it with what appeared to be a broken spine. The officers were responding to reports by mountain lion hunters about signs of wolf activity in the Big Bend Ridge area northwest of Ashton. Senior Conservation officers Bruce Penske, Charlie Anderson and Shane Liss followed a single set of tracks, first on snowmobiles and then on snowshoes, for about two miles. They eventually found the un-collared, badly injured wolf dragging its hindquarters.

The officers caught up with the wolf in a steep canyon, at which point they conferred over cell phones with both Idaho Fish and Game and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service officials, who gave proper authorization to put the animal down using department side-arms.

Upon closer investigation, the wolf appeared to have a broken spine, was missing an eye and had injured its paws from dragging itself through the snow. The officers saw no evidence that humans had inflicted the injuries, and believe that a moose is responsible, although the exact cause is still under investigation.

war in Iraq

U.S. CASUALTIES: As of Tuesday, March 1, 1490 U.S. service members (including 10 Idahoans) have died since the war in Iraq began in March 2003: 1139 in combat and 351 from non-combat related incidents and accidents. Injured service members total 10,968. In the last week, 14 U.S. soldiers died.

Since President George W. Bush declared "mission accomplished" aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln on May 1, 2003, 1347 soldiers have died.

Source: U.S. Dept. of Defense

IRAQI CIVILIAN DEATHS: Estimated between 16,123 and 18,395.


COST OF IRAQ WAR: $156,669,395,054