The governor's mansion: Is this empty, costly gift worth keeping?

Here is a sneak preview of our Sunday editorial on Idaho's governor's mansion.

A state committee approved a $177,400 budget to maintain Idaho’s governor’s mansion, in a June vote by email that violated open meeting law.

And that isn’t the sole problem surrounding the mansion. Perhaps the most visible vacant house in the state, the mansion has never been used for its supposed purpose, providing a residence for the state’s chief executive.

State agencies occasionally use the mansion for meetings and retreats — with “occasionally” being the operative word. According to Emilie Ritter Saunders, a reporter with StateImpact Idaho, the 42 events held since June 2009 have brought in a modest $6,800 in rental fees.

By comparison, Saunders reports, the state will spend $3,400 just maintaining telephone, cable TV and wi-fi at the mansion — and that’s just a fraction of the mansion budget, gobbled up largely by maintaining the hilltop grounds and paying the electric bill.

This problem isn’t new. As we said in an editorial in January 2008 — 37 months after the state accepted the donation of J.R. Simplot’s former residence — Idaho has “a mansion without a mission.” The situation has not improved since then; the only thing that’s changing is the balance of the state’s mansion maintenance fund, which is in a gradual state of decline.

Meeting last week, face to face, the committee formally approved the maintenance budget. But the committee agreed to hold a public hearing in September, to allow Idahoans to have a say about the mansion’s future.

So let’s talk about how to make — or not make — this decision:

• This shouldn’t be a political call — yet it has political overtones. The $177,400 maintenance budget passed on what amounts to a 3-2 party-line vote. Two Boise Republican lawmakers, Sen. Chuck Winder and Rep. Max Black, endorsed the budget, joined by a member of Gov. Butch Otter’s cabinet, Administration Department Director Teresa Luna. Two Boise Democrats, Sen. Les Bock and Rep. Phylis King, voted against the budget.

Perhaps that’s just coincidence. It’s hard to see how, or why, the disposition of the state mansion should be a partisan matter.

• This decision shouldn’t come down to personalities — although those are difficult to overcome.
The mansion was donated by Simplot, one of the state’s industrial icons. His survivors hold considerable sway in Idaho. And Otter, who has declined to live in the mansion, is Simplot’s former son-in-law.

That doesn’t make it easy to turn back the property — which could, ultimately, wind up back in the Simplots’ possession. But if the state has no use for the property, then it has no business holding onto it.

• This shouldn’t be a snap decision, either.

The mansion is costing the state money. But one saving grace is the fact that Idaho still has nearly $900,000 in a dedicated governor’s housing fund. That gives the state time to figure out what to do with the Simplot mansion — and how to address the housing needs of future governors.

It could be said that the state, and then-Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, accepted the donation in 2004 without having a clear plan for the property. The state has the time, and the responsibility, to make a thought-out decision about the property’s long-term future.

Get Twitter updates on my blog and column and Statesman editorials. Become a follower. You can also get updates on Facebook's Idaho Statesman Opinion Page.

Why does our oppressive Government build these buildings?

These monuments are like the Incas and the Azetcs, fodder for their huge egos. I would be happy with a leveled Washington. Also our US State Capitals have much wasted space that we all have to maintain.

The home

was originally a private residence that was donated to the State.
Try to keep up, speaking of wasted space, then occupy a shower.

Donated? Ha Ha. More like dumped on the taxpayers.

You need to catch up my brother/sister, I'm SS, and I'm with the taxpayer, and discussted by OWS. But I realize we need them to win the next election.

Correct

Simplot probably got a tax write off. I was in this thing while it was being built back in the 1970s. It is not a family type house but rather one huge living room with the best view in town and a couple of bedrooms. Building it was Esther's idea as I recall, not Jacks. (The flag pole was Jack's idea.) The point is, it is not particulalry salable. It is a white elephant. It would take a person with unique tastes to buy it. At a $2 million sales price, there are few who would be interested.

It is best for the Governor's mansion fund to take the hit and go back to plan A - that is, build a governor's mansion closer to the Capitol building in a more traditional style. Either that or give the next governor a generous housing allowance and tell him to find his own place. For what it is worth, I think we should provide an appropriate house for the governor but Fort Simplot does not fit the bill.

No one living there,

but there will be a $3400 bill for cable tv, telephone and wi-fi? Security guards must be living the good life at the mansion.
P.S. Kevin, why don't you do a follow up on your article and request to see the phone, tv and wi-fi records just to see if taxpayer money is being used and if so, is it for Idaho State government business. Thanks

Here's an idea

How about we let the Idaho lottery manage the property rather than the Dept of Admin? They could sell tickets at 1 to 5 bucks a piece for a chance to live in the mansion for a month or two rent free. The ticket sales proceeds go into the fund to maintain the place. Then it truly becomes a house for the people of Idaho. BTW, I understand the money currently in the fund that is used to maintain the place is not taxpayer money, although it is managed by state officials. So although JR gave the state an albatross, he hung it around the necks of those suckers who privately donated to the Governor's mansion fund.

"Is this empty, costly gift worth keeping?"

In a word, "no".

More precisely, "h3!! no!"

Look up the derivation of the term "white elephant" and you'll see a photo of this monstrosity. We need to dump this pile ASAP.

WE got took when the "powers

WE got took when the "powers that be" accepted this "gift." It was not a gift but a handy tax deduction for Simplot which should never have been accepted. Its a 2 bedroom monster that will continue to suck away funds and never pay for itself. It has no significance to the state of Idaho. It was only significant to Simplot.

keep asking those questions

If no one is living there, why is there cable TV ??

Kempthorne

Should have said " No thank you " and the Simplots ought to step back up and take it back instead of building a carnival in down town Boise....

2

Election Fodder

If we are still paying for this White Elephant in the fall, it would make a great point to use in the election.

Governors Residence

There may be a day when our Governor isn't so wealthy that he/she can afford to turn away a residence during the time they serve the Citizens of Idaho, or we can hope anyway. The decision to take Simplot's egocentric gift came with the responsibility to maintain it whether anyone is living there or not, so what is the question? Is it that the extravagance of such a trophy is just too much for the politicians to swallow or is it the symbolism that comes from our Governor residing in the house that Jack built? I think the problem is ... we (Idaho's not so representative elected officials) just never could say "NO" to Jack Simplot.

Residence

Paint the arches Blue and Orange. Let the head coach of BSU football reside there.

Ole JR is...

probably still laughing about this. Not only did he give us his worthless ex-son-in-law but rode off into the sunset yelling, 'Suckers' while giving the one finger wave.

Boise to Bogus

A gondola base house- up to Bogus.
Charge $ for the ride,
Save parking at Bogus
Reduce car emissions.

***
A modest restaurant as a part of it.

Sad

Sad that Idahoans think so little of government that they will take any opportunity to complain about it. Where should the individual with the responsibility for running the state live, Motel 6?