Here's a draft of our Tuesday editorial.
The gift that keeps on giving, the J.R. Simplot mansion has provided Idaho plenty of headaches over the past eight years.
Now, Idaho is in a no-win situation: figuring out what to do with an unoccupied and all-but-unused mansion. The decision falls to a five-member governor’s housing committee: Sen. Chuck Winder and Rep., Max Black, both R-Boise, Sen. Les Bock and Rep. Phylis King, both D-Boise, and Administration Department Director Teresa Luna.
Let’s hope, for their sake, that committee members have ample aspirin at hand.
• The Simplot headache. Simplot helped engineer the donation of the mansion in 2004. Now, the surviving members of the potato baron’s family have no interest in taking back the 7,100-square-foot home.
That leaves the committee two options, and neither are ideal. The panel can hang onto the mansion, despite the lack of an obvious plan, while the state continues to incur the maintenance costs. Or, the panel can put the mansion on the market — and, in the process, risk alienating one of Idaho’s most influential families.
• Mission headache. It’s been well documented that Gov. Butch Otter, Simplot’s former son-in-law, has never had an interest in living there. Likewise, other recent governors and gubernatorial candidates have shown scant interest in living in a publicly owned mansion — or accepting a monthly housing allowance from the state. (Otter no longer takes the housing stipend.)
Is the notion of a governor’s mansion an anachronism? Or should the state maintain the Simplot mansion for entertaining and events now and, perhaps, as a residence for a future governor? Answering that question requires looking into the future, no easy feat.
• Public relations headache. The committee gave Idahoans a chance to weigh in last week. Only six people testified, all but one in support of unloading the mansion. Not exactly a large sample size.
Like the mansion, perched conspicuously on a hillside overlooking Bogus Basin Road and Downtown Boise, the mansion decision will be a high-profile call, one that will get scrutiny beyond its overall budget implications.
• Budget headache. Idaho is not getting a free ride on the mansion. This year, the cost of maintaining the mansion and the 37-acre grounds will run a projected $177,400.
The one bit of good news: Idaho’s mansion maintenance fund, while dwindling, remains at about $900,000. That gives the state a five-year cushion. That provides time to look at the options — including a possible sale.
There’s no need to unload the mansion in a hurry. That would be a snap decision, one that could bring on its own set of headaches.