Our View: Incumbent Woolf gets the job done now

May 14, 2014 

There are a few Idaho state offices where some things appear broken and need fixing. The Idaho State Controller's Office is not one of them.

Republican incumbent Brandon Woolf has the job well in hand, and it's been that way ever since he took over temporarily in 2012 after Controller Donna M. Jones had to leave the position when she sustained serious injuries in a car accident. Gov. Butch Otter appointed Woolf permanently in late 2012, and the Idaho Senate confirmed him in 2013.

We are joining this chorus of approval in the upcoming GOP primary by endorsing Woolf. This is tantamount to wishing he gets his first full term, because if Woolf prevails over Republican challenger Todd Hatfield on Tuesday, the job is his. No Democrats or members of other parties made runs for the Nov. 5 general election.

Woolf joined the state controller team as an intern in 1997 and rose to chief of staff. We see no reason to oust someone who keeps trying to find ways to improve on systems to pay bills and the salaries of 25,000 state employees.

Hatfield is confident his business experience and associate's degree in accounting will enable him to manage the office and allow him to find money and ways to pay down the state's $1.4 billion in long-term debt. He said this debt didn't exist 12 years ago, and now it threatens future generations. One of his ideas is to take some "unreserved" state funds and pay down debt on things such as Boise State University's Bronco Stadium. Because the controller has a seat on the Land Board, Hatfield made it clear that he would be opposed to any investments that compete against private business. Knowledgeable about timber, he prefers such sustainable investments to commercial real estate.

On these points, Woolf doesn't see the same level of concern, and he realizes it is mostly the Legislature's responsibility to act to pay down debt. He said portions of the debt Hatfield speaks of existed prior to 12 years ago - one example being vacation pay for state employees. That factors in, he said, because it has to be paid when employees leave. Regarding commercial real estate investment by the Land Board, Woolf said that has been suspended. Though the Land Board still owns commercial properties, it was Woolf who made the motion to the board to take "a timeout" on commercial real estate at a Land Board meeting in February.

Hatfield's preference for timber investment (he believes it to be noncompetitive with private industry) doesn't wash with Woolf, who said he's been approached by private timber concerns who say the state is, in fact, a competitor in that industry.

Woolf pointed out in our discussions that the time spent by the controller devoted to Land Board issues is only 10 percent. The other 90 percent is "being the engine" of state government: directing and forecasting future IT needs; making that payroll; preparing for disaster situations; and making the state's accounting practices more transparent.

We are impressed with Woolf's skills in all these areas and his 17 years in the department - and perhaps that is why we haven't heard that something is broken and needs fixing.

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