Idaho legislators, state treasurer need to drop their embarrassing fight over office space

It is sad and embarrassing for Idaho that state Treasurer Julie Ellsworth and legislative leaders are spending taxpayer dollars in court fighting over office space.

These are people who are supposed to work together for the common good of the residents of Idaho, and here they are in court fighting like children over who gets what room. Further, these are all members of the same party fighting with each other, another bad look for Idaho.

For background, legislators want to move the Treasurer’s Office out of the Capitol to free up space that could be used for private offices for House members. While state senators have private offices, most House members work in cubicles.

The agreement to let legislators take over the first floor was arranged in 2007 when lawmakers gave themselves control over most of the floors of the building, including where Ellsworth’s office is. Then-Gov. Butch Otter let the bill become law without his signature at the time.

The deal came out of a major renovation of the state Capitol, which added underground wings to the building. However, rather than add two floors of underground space, legislators contend that the agreement with the governor was to build just one floor and that later down the line, when then-Treasurer Ron Crane left office, the Legislature would be able to expand into the first-floor offices.

The deal to allow Crane to stay in the space was allegedly struck by the governor and the leaders of the House and Senate in 2007, but that deal was not included in the subsequent codification of the current law shortly thereafter giving the Legislature unfettered control of the first floor of the Capitol.

Crane has disputed that there was an agreement to move the treasurer out of the office after he left. Writing in a guest opinion in the Idaho Statesman this year, Crane wrote that the governor “stipulated to the legislative leadership that the office space occupied by the treasurer would ‘continue to be assigned to the treasurer.’ This encompassed all of the east wing, south-side complex of the first floor. Further, he stated ‘the use of the words “temporary basis” was not and will not be a part of any agreement.’ The details of this agreement are set forth in the Capitol Master Plan adopted by the Capitol Commission.”

On the one hand, we understand the argument that the state treasurer is a year-round position, while legislators are “citizen legislators,” in town for just 90 days or so during the session. Why would we remove a full-time constitutional officer from the Capitol to make room for people who would use the space for just a couple of months out of the year?

Be that as it may, the Legislature still passed a law setting forth the parameters of this agreement.

If you want to do something that goes against a law duly passed by the Legislature, the best thing to do is to try to change or repeal the law, not disobey it.

It’s worth noting, as well, that the Idaho Constitution does not require that the treasurer be in the state Capitol, so this is not a question of constitutionality. Crane points out that Idaho Code states that the treasurer’s office will be adjacent to the vault on the first floor, but state legislators removed that requirement last session.

According to a release from the Idaho Republican Caucus, the Legislature has offered to allow the treasurer to stay in her suite with some of her staff, while other staff members would move elsewhere. Ellsworth and other constitutional officers in Idaho already have staff members in other locations, so this seems like a reasonable compromise. The state treasurer would remain in the Capitol, and legislators would get more office space.

Quit the bickering, quit wasting tax dollars in court and come to a deal. You’re embarrassing yourselves and Idaho.

Statesman editorials are the unsigned opinion expressing the consensus of the Idaho Statesman’s editorial board. Board member William Myers recused himself from this editorial.
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Always full of opinions and tolerant of others, Scott McIntosh is the opinions editor for the Idaho Statesman. He has won dozens of state and national awards, including Best Editorial from the Idaho Press Club for 2017.