Federalism meeting

Members of the Legislature’s Committee on federalism talk during their first meeting on Friday. From left to right are Reps. Judy Boyle, Wendy Horman, Megan Blanksma and Jason Monks, and Sens. Steve Vick, Dan Johnson, Mark Harris, Carl Crabtree and Grant Burgoyne. Not pictured but seated at the left is Rep. Jake Ellis.

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BOISE — When the Idaho Legislature’s new joint Committee on Federalism held its first meeting on Friday, it heard extensive presentations on how millions of dollars in federal timber sales are being accomplished through state-federal cooperation, creating and maintaining hundreds of Idaho jobs and positively impacting rural communities across the state.

Then the lawmakers invited public testimony from anyone who’d like to share successful examples of federalism they’ve observed in Idaho or elsewhere. Of the five people who testified, none could think of any.

“We are logging way, way below historic levels,” said Jeff Wright of Boise County.

“We’ve been negated from doing any mining,” said Bill Villers. “This is one of the main reasons that we have such a high unemployment rate, especially in the mine sector.”

Fred Birnbaum, of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, suggested Idaho look at all the federal funds it receives and “determine which ones the state does not need to take.”

Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, told the panel, “I really had a hard time thinking of anything (positive about federalism) for Idaho, in regards to this question. … I can think of other states that have told the federal government to go pound sand, but I had a hard time coming up with anything in Idaho.” She pointed to other states that have acted on “marijuana or sanctuary cities.”

Rep. Jason Monks, R-Nampa, co-chair, noted that during the legislative debate about forming the new committee, “There were the extremes — we could use this committee as a battering ram to try to bludgeon the federal government, we could argue and complain.”

But, he said, “I believe the reason we’re trying to have this committee is to see where we can improve the relationship between the federal government and the states, not make it worse.”

Three national forest supervisors and officials from the Idaho Department of Lands briefed the lawmakers on Good Neighbor Authority programs, first authorized in the 2014 federal Farm Bill, which are allowing state and federal agencies to work together on logging and restoration projects in national forests in Idaho. IDL Director Dustin Miller said there are 6.1 million acres of national forest land in Idaho designated as “priority areas” for such projects.

“The Forest Service has really worked closely with us and relied on the IDL for expertise, predominantly with our timber program, and finding ways to establish some timber sales, to get some volume out of the woods,” Miller said, “but to also focus in on restoration activities.”

“I can’t tell you enough how excited we are about this partnership and working collaboratively with our partners at the U.S. Forest Service to really go after these outcomes that we all want to see on the landscape,” he said.

Under President Trump’s “shared stewardship” executive order, those efforts are being expanded to look across entire landscapes, including federal, state and private lands, he said.

Panhandle National Forests Supervisor Jeanne Higgins said over the last 10 years, the Panhandle forests have “been able to triple the outputs, with both board-feet and acres treated.”

In 2011, the Panhandle logged 25 million board-feet of timber, she said; last year, it was 74 million.

Nez Perce/Clearwater National Forest Supervisor Cheryl Probert said, “This really is a way to show and demonstrate and practice good government, regardless of boundaries or state or federal. … For every 1 million board-feet sold, it’s 22 jobs sustained or created, depending on your market. And in depressed economies like we have in some of our rural areas, that’s a really critical piece.”

She added, “We’ve doubled our timber volume outputs from about 40 million board feet to about 80, and we’re on the rise to double again in the next five years. … It’s an amazing program.”

Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, reported on sessions on federalism she attended at a recent National Conference of State Legislatures conference, including information on how the expansion and growth of Medicaid means significantly increased federal funds flowing to states. As vice-chair of the Legislature’s joint budget committee, Horman said she joined other state appropriations committee leaders to discuss trends in federal funding, and how they could impact state budgets in the future, including in a recession.

At the close of Friday’s meeting, the committee formed three subcommittees, each with a House and Senate co-chair, to focus on federalism issues in the areas of lands, education, and health and welfare.

Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, who will co-chair the lands subcommittee, said after the meeting, “It’s a great idea we should’ve done years ago. Federalism is part of our form of government. If nothing else, it’s going to educate a lot of people on what federalism really is.”

The committee received extensive materials from Cornell Law School Legal Institute to study about federalism, including this definition: “Federalism is a system of government in which the same territory is controlled by two levels of government.”

Monks said, “I think we anticipated that there would be a lot of frustration with government in general, and we did not want to be a complaining session, because that’s not the purpose of this committee. … We are a sovereign state, but we are also part of the United States, so we’ve got to work together.”

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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