Bringing the Economy Home

Idaho Democrat Questions Governor’s Mansion Funding Process

Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Visitors attend an open house at the Idaho Governor's Mansion.

A public meeting has been scheduled for the Governor’s Housing Committee after a Democratic lawmaker on the panel said the chairman violated Idaho’s open meetings law by conducting a vote via email.

In the email vote, the committee approved the annual $177,400 budget for maintenance of the governor’s mansion.  In a 3-2 vote, Both Democrats on the panel voted no. 

The committee oversees management of a fund used to maintain the governor’s hilltop mansion in Boise.  The home was donated to the state by J.R. Simplot in 2005, but it’s never been lived in by a governor. 

History of the Governor’s Residence

In 1969, the state acquired a 15-acre parcel of land from the federal government with the stipulation that it was either to be used for the construction of a Governor’s residence, or a city park; otherwise it would revert back to the federal government. The state still owns that land on Horizon View Drive.

In 1989 the Governor’s Residence Fund was established.

    • Proceeds from the sale of the Governor’s Residence at 1805 N. 21st Street ($221,200) plus a $778,800 appropriation from the Permanent Building Fund to establish a balance of $1 million for the acquisition or construction of a Governor’s residence.

In 1995 when Governor Batt took Office he purchased a home in Boise.

During the 1995 legislative session–Idaho Code 67-455 was adopted.  It created the Governor’s Housing Committee.

  • It transferred and perpetually appropriated to the Department of Administration all moneys in or added to the Governor’s Residence Fund.
  • Stipulated that funds are to be used for a governor’s housing allowance, and the acquisition, construction, remodel, furnishing, equipping or maintenance of a governor’s residence.

Later in 1995, Governor Batt’s Home was purchased by the state for about $246,000.

In 1999, at the end of Governor Batt’s term, the state sold the house for $262,500 and deposited the balance into the Governor’s Residence Fund.

In November 2005, the state took ownership of a house and some of the surrounding property donated by Mr. and Mrs. JR Simplot. The 7,370 square foot house plus 1,151 square feet of garages is located on 37.749 acres.  It was valued at $2,110,000.

In 2005 the Housing Committee established a Philanthropic Gift Fund at the Idaho Community

  • $100,000 was initially authorized by the Committee for a design/build contract to develop a preliminary remodel design and conduct preconstruction services.  $91,644 of that amount was spent.  $45,000 was approved for expenditure for fundraising efforts, $20,456 was spent.

As of December 2006, $542,000 was raised, with a balance of $397,000 after obligations for design fees and marketing costs.

  • The committee secured the trademark “The Idaho House” in December 2005.

In 2008, the Department of Administration began an effort to refurbish and furnish the house
donated by the Simplot family.

  • All furnishings were purchased with the private donations maintained by the Idaho Community Foundation, not taxpayer dollars.
  • To date, approximately $310,000 of the donated funds have been spent to refurbish/remodel and furnish the House.

In March 2009, the House was declared completed and ready for use by Department of Administration.

At that time, the Governor ceased to receive the monthly housing stipend.

The House is a fully functional governor’s mansion that serves as the center of the First Family’s ceremonial, social and political activities.

The grounds are maintained in a cooperative effort with the Simplot Co. since the State owns only the house and the top of the hill and the Simplot Co. owns the rest of the original property.

Source: Idaho Department of Administration

Sen. Les Bock (D-Garden City) thinks it’s time to get rid of the mansion all together.  “It’s not like this money couldn’t be used for something else – we have plenty of needs,” Bock says.  “Taking care of a governor’s mansion that no governor has ever lived in is something that doesn’t sit very well with my constituents or me.”

Bock also takes issue with the way the governor’s mansion fund is appropriated.  The annual appropriation doesn’t go through the typical path of approval by the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee.  Instead, it’s a “perpetual appropriation“.  That means a five-member panel votes the annual appropriation up or down. The spending is never considered by the full legislature.

“All moneys in or added to the governor’s residence fund and any dividend or interest earnings thereon are hereby perpetually appropriated to the department of administration and set apart for the purposes of providing a governor’s housing allowance and the acquisition, construction, remodel, furnishing, equipping or maintenance of a governor’s residence and the same shall be available for such purposes immediately upon being credited to the account, upon authorization for expenditure being given by the governor’s housing committee.” – Idaho Code 67-455

Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Winder (R-Boise) told The Associated Press he authorized the email vote to save time.  Winder also doesn’t take issue with the mansion or the way its finances are handled.

“I personally think it’s OK the way it is,” Winder told the AP. “Discussion as to what to do with the property has been ongoing, and I’m sure will continue to be ongoing, as we try to figure out how best to deal with it.”

Still, Sen. Bock is working on two pieces of legislation for next session One would change the appropriation process for the mansion, giving the entire Legislature a vote. The second would direct the state to sell the governor’s mansion which was valued at more than $2 million in 2005.

Two accounts make up the governor’s housing fund.  One is donated money from the Idaho Community Foundation.  According to the Idaho Department of Administration, that account’s balance is about $160,000.

The other funding source for the governor’s mansion is the Governor’s Residence Fund.  Its balance as of May 31 was $871,965.  That money includes the proceeds of the sale of the old governor’s residence on 21st Street, and a $788,800 appropriation of the Permanent Building Fund (a fund made up of tax revenue and general fund dollars).

The Governor’s Housing Committee will meet Tuesday, July 3, at 3:00 P.M. in Room 155 of the Len B. Jordan Building located at 650 W. State Street in Boise.


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