Let’s set the record straight. ‘Facts’ stated by former House of Representative member Stephen Hartgen in his recent commentary need to be corrected.
In Hartgen’s commentary he stated the following: “I retired from the House in 2018 and don’t have any ‘dog in the fight’ between current legislative leadership and Treasurer Ellsworth, herself a former House member.”
Mr. Hartgen does indeed have an interest in this fight. In fact, current Representative Linda Wright-Hartgen replaced her husband (Mr. Hartgen) in the Legislature in 2018. Mrs. Hartgen voted on this issue in the 2019 legislative session. She supported HB 289 which would have appropriated a whopping $10,595,800 to evict the full time Treasurer’s office from its 107-year-old historic location in the capitol building and to construct private legislative offices, which would be used only 90 days out of the year. Yes, you read that correctly! Over $10,000,000 for private offices. This amount would be in addition to the $120 million taxpayers already spent on the 2008 renovation of the capitol building. That renovation also paid for the construction of two new capitol wings housing legislative offices.
Mr. Hartgen “authoritatively” portrays legislative history by stating: “Clarifying the allocation of space in the restored building was the reason behind the statute which passed in 2007. From being involved in those discussions all along the way, I can say unequivocally that there was never any intent to grandfather in or provide “permanent” space to any entity beyond the floor allocations in the statute itself.”
The truth is, Mr. Hartgen was not involved in the legislative discussions all along the way. In fact, be became a member of the legislature in July 2007, four months after the passage of the statute he cites. He was not part of the legislative debates or vote and does not have first-hand knowledge of these discussions.
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In the Senate State Affairs official legislative history committee minutes form March 9, 2007, Senate President Pro Tem Robert Geddes told the committee considering legislation for the proposed renovation and control of space in the capitol building that a compromising agreement had been reached with the Governor concerning the Treasurer remaining in space in occupied on the first floor of the capitol. Senator Geddes stated:
“We need to inform the committee that there has been concessions, with regard to the space that is currently occupied by the Treasurer on the first floor. That agreement has been negotiated with the Governor and the banking aspects of the Treasurer’s office will remain on the southeast corner of the first floor. In the last section of the bill, this was negotiated with the understanding that if the Treasurer should ever choose, after being out of the building to not return, or if a future Treasurer chooses to not occupy that space either, than (sic) that space would be honored by the agreement that was reached with the Governor.”
The agreement with the Governor concerning his control of the first floor, and the legislature’s concessions to allow the Treasurer to control the Treasurer’s own space was also set forth in an official letter to the Governor from President Pro Tem Geddes and House Speaker Lawerence Denney signed March 9, 2007.
Is this really the best time to focus on building fancy offices for legislators? With looming budget shortfalls necessitating mandatory cuts for all government agencies, with the talk of shifting the cost of Medicaid expansion to our property taxes and with the effort to eliminated the sales tax on groceries, don’t you think we could put over $10,000,000 to a better uses than on PART TIME lawmaker private offices to be used occasionally during no more than 90 days out of the year? I think, “This is stupid.” I hope that every taxpayer in Idaho will express an opinion on this boondoggle to their local legislators.