Panel maintains Idaho governor’s housing stipend, for now

Gov. Brad Little
Gov. Brad Little

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The state will continue playing the $4,551-per-month housing stipend for Idaho’s governor for now, a special legislative committee has decided, but the panel will reconsider the matter later this year.

The Governor’s Housing Committee voted unanimously to keep the stipend in place, the Idaho Press reported Thursday.

“We really need to be talking about should we be doing this, should we be doing it at this rate, is it still needed, what are some of the other states doing,” said Sen. Abby Lee, a Republican from Fruitland.

The panel will meet again in November or December to consider possible changes.

“Does it still make sense today? I don’t know,” said House Assistant Majority Leader Jason Monks, R-Meridian. ”… I certainly didn’t have enough information to make a decision other than let’s maintain where we’re at.”

Idaho is one of just five states that does not provide an official residence for its governor. The other four are Arizona, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont. Some states have historic governor’s mansions and some require their governors to live in those homes.

Idaho hasn’t had an official residence for its governor since the hilltop Simplot mansion, donated to the state by potato magnate J.R. Simplot’s family in 2004, reverted back to the family in 2013. No Idaho governor ever lived in the mansion.

Then-Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter was J.R. Simplot’s ex-son-in-law and opted to stay at his ranch in Star rather than moving to the Boise residence. The Simplot family demolished the house in 2016.

Idaho’s last occupied governor’s residence, an older home in Boise’s North End, was sold in 1990. It had served as the governor’s mansion since 1947, but deteriorated over the years and governors began declining to live there.

The $221,000 in proceeds was boosted by a $778,000 appropriation from the state’s Permanent Building Fund to create a Governor’s Residence Account.

That money has been tapped for various purposes over the years, including for the monthly housing stipend. At the current stipend rate of $54,610 a year, the housing fund will run out in five years.

The state owns a 15-acre (6-hectare) property in the Boise foothills with a view of the Capitol that’s long been eyed as a future governor’s residence, and various plans have been drawn up since 1988 to build a new mansion there, but they’ve never gone forward.

Under the terms of the state’s acquisition of the property, if the land isn’t used for either a governor’s residence or a public park, it will revert back to the federal Bureau of Land Management. Currently, part of it is leased to the city of Boise for use as part of the Ridge to Rivers trail system.

“Right now, it’s satisfying the purpose of serving as a park because it’s part of the Ridge to Rivers, so there’s no real rush to do anything with it,” said Keith Reynolds, state Department of Administration director and chair of the Governor’s Housing Committee.