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Lawmakers reject plan to sell governor's mansion

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BOISE, Idaho (AP) _ Lawmakers on Thursday rejected a proposal to
sell Idaho's long-empty governor's mansion to help the
cash-strapped state parks system.
Rep. Grant Burgoyne, a Boise Democrat, introduced the
legislation in the House State Affairs Committee, where lawmakers
refused to print the bill.
The money tied up in the hilltop mansion does nothing for the
state, Burgoyne argued, while Idaho's park officials explore
corporate sponsorships to stay financially afloat.
``We have chosen to keep the governor's mansion, and we have
state parks that are going to have corporate logos on them,''
Burgoyne said after the hearing.
Gov. C.L. ``Butch'' Otter has eschewed living in the hilltop
mansion that was donated to the state by the late french fry
billionaire, J.R. Simplot. Otter resides at his ranch west of
Boise.
If Idaho decides to sell the mansion, it must first give
Simplot's surviving family the right of first refusal, at market
prices. And if the offer is $2.1 million or less, Simplot's family
could take back the place, even though Idaho has paid for six years
of upkeep and used $310,000 from private donations for renovations.
About $1 million remains in a fund to maintain the house, but
the money has been dwindling due to exorbitant watering and mowing
cost. The water-guzzling, electricity-devouring hilltop mansion is
vacant but still costs the state about $120,000 in yearly upkeep.
``It does not seem to me that it is prudent to continue to spend
money on an asset that we are unable to use,'' Burgoyne said. ``We
are in a budget crisis.''
But his proposal to sell the mansion was picked apart by
lawmakers on the House committee, who questioned everything from
the term ``dispose'' in the bill's language to a proposed deadline
of July 2012 for selling the property.
``We're announcing that desperation had taken over,'' said
Republican Rep. Max Black, of Boise. ``Nobody's going to step
forward and even have to offer market value for this property if we
put into legislation that it has to be sold by such and such.''
Supporters of the plan to sell the mansion also had
reservations. Rep. Phylis King, a Boise Democrat who sits on the
Governor's Housing Committee, said she has wanted to sell the home
ever since she was appointed to the five-person panel.
``For the past two years, I think we've been reluctant to do
that because the economy's been so poor,'' King said.
But the Simplot family should be contacted first, she said,
before lawmakers take up legislation seeking to sell the home.
``I fully support selling the home, and parks and rec is a great
idea, but I think one thing we got to do is we've got to talk to
the Simplots first,'' she said, referring to the state parks
department.
Burgoyne countered that nothing in his bill would keep the state
from contacting the Simplot family while soliciting a third-party
offer on the home. And if the state did get such an offer, the
family would still get first dibs on purchasing the property.
The committee's refusal to even print the bill was a harbinger
of how future attempts to sell the mansion could fair this session.
Burgoyne said he will first need to hear more backing for the
proposal before he pursued it with another piece of legislation.
``I will need to hear more support from this committee to
suggest it has a chance,'' he said.


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