Rep. Grant Burgyone, D-Boise, wants to get out of the real estate business – sort of.
Burgoyne, who won a hotly-contested election against Republican Ralph Perez earlier this month, wants to sell a piece of property that was given to the state of Idaho as a gift, but may soon become a burr under the Gem State’s saddle.
“I intend to introduce legislation to sell the governor’s mansion if I am re-elected,” said Burgoyne in an Oct. 28 debate with Perez. Lest anyone think Burgoyne has a beef with the governor and wants to sell his dwelling, the home to which the Boise Democrat referred is the Simplot Mansion, an unused home owned by the state intended for habitation by the state’s top executive.
The property is prime real estate with a hilltop home donated to the state in 2004 by self-made billionaire J.R. Simplot. The home boasts a nice view of Boise and was valued at $2.8 million when the gift was given. Simplot, who passed away in 2008, said at the time that he wanted governors for years to come to enjoy the abode.
“I just think the world of Idaho, and I’m just pleased to let someone have it like the governor,” Simplot said at a ceremony announcing his donation to the state. “As governors come and go, they’ll enjoy it, I hope.”
But governors haven’t enjoyed it – at least not for dwelling purposes. Gov. Butch Otter doesn’t live in the home and neither did then-Gov. Jim Risch during his stint in the state’s top job. Even Gov. Dirk Kempthorne, in office when the property was donated, didn’t packs his bags and establish residency in the hilltop dwelling.
The state has realized the property is an expensive investment and the fund paying for upkeep of the house on the hill – mowing, watering, and electricity – is running out. The fund, money saved from the sale of a previous governor’s mansion, began with $1.5 million in the coffers, but has since dwindled to a little more than $1 million, according to recent reports.
The head of the Governor’s Housing Committee, Senate Pro Tem Bob Geddes, R-Soda Springs, doesn’t expect the money to last much longer. “We can only maintain the property and the home for the next five years before that fund will be depleted,” Geddes told the Associated Press earlier this year.
Burgoyne says if the sale of the mansion is forced, the money in the upkeep fund could be used to bring in additional tax revenue to the state. “There are better ways to use that money and one of those ways is to hire tax auditors,” Burgoyne explained, adding that hiring more auditors is a proven method for increase tax revenue.
Earlier this year, Geddes told IdahoReporter.com that he had discussed various cost-savings options with officials from the J.R. Simplot Company, including asking the corporation to take on more of the burden of upkeep for the property.
Monday, Geddes said that anyone working on legislation to sell the mansion should be respectful to the Simplot family. “Is it an option to sell it?” asked Geddes. “Yes, I think that’s an option, but we need to extend courtesy to the Simplot family and ask them about it. Maybe even offer it back to them.”
Burgoyne told IdahoReporter.com that in crafting the legislation, he will be mindful of the wishes of the family. The legislation is still under construction and won’t be release until the legislative session.
The housing committee hasn’t yet met in 2010, but may gather before the end of the year to consider options in dealing with the home prior to the next legislative session.