BOISE -- 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.