Friday, January 13, 2006

Governor's visions of palatial grandeur ill-advised

Most Americans have had their fill of corporate executives and some politicians living high on the hog with lifestyles that set them apart as elitists and out of touch with the nation's real needs and citizens' concerns.

The Idaho Legislature now has its chance to strike a blow against such pretentiousness and profligacy right here at home.

In Gov. Dirk Kempthorne's proposed budget of $2.31 billion, he's included $2 million for acquisition of 30 to 40 acres adjoining the new governor's mansion, a Boise hilltop home donated by potato tycoon J.R. Simplot, to create breathtaking security and isolation for the state's chief executive.

The governor seems to have been seized by fantasies that the state's chief executive should live in grandeur befitting the president of the United States or ruler of a midget principality in old Europe.

Not only does Idaho have the expense of maintaining a 7,400-square-foot donated home to be called the governor's mansion, but donors are now paying to add another 4,600 square feet. Ultimately, the mansion will have a grand hall that can seat 150 people under 12-foot ceilings and four to five guest bedrooms requiring upkeep.

Mansion, indeed. Adding 30 to 40 acres, including riding stables, would be tantamount to creating palace grounds that would need a large staff to maintain.

And what of the governor's other edificial ambition—to spend other millions on restoring and modernizing the Capitol, a project that comes closer to necessity than expanding the site of a governor's home.

With so many of Idaho's institutional needs falling behind because of budget shortfalls, skinning taxpayers of $2 million for creating even a more kingly domicile for the governor is indefensible and should be quickly struck by legislators from the list of things-to-do. Idaho's governor is secure enough with full-time Idaho State Police protection without being sealed off and out of touch on an immense estate.

The $2 million Gov. Kempthorne would spend on mansion grounds would go a long way, for example, toward hiring 66 of those $30,000-a-year teachers he acknowledges we need.

Or, repairing some of the decrepit school buildings the state Legislature has so callously ignored, despite a decades-old court order requiring attention by the lawmakers.

Or, adding personnel and equipment to the ISP's state crime lab that's perennially understaffed and unable to handle some scientific crime investigations speedily.

If this request to glorify the residence of future governors isn't rejected, the next budget might well include a corps of buglers to announce the nightly arrival of the governor and liveried footman to open doors of his taxpayer-bought Rolls Royce.

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