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House Bill 537 - Lava Hot Springs foundation

House Bill 537 - Lava Hot Springs foundation

Fred Birnbaum
February 25, 2020

 Rating -1


Land administered by the Lava Hot Springs Foundation, which totals 178 acres, was originally purchased by the federal government and then ceded to the state. Lava Hot Springs operates from dedicated funds, including entrance fees, rentals, and merchandise sales. 

According to the Lava Hot Springs Performance Report for the period FY16 to FY19, total expenditures increased 19.1% and personnel costs rose 23.0%, while attendance increased only 6.7%. 

The foundation’s budget proposal contains two questionable line items: a proposal to demolish the Tumbling Waters Motel at a cost of $500,000 and $100,000 for gift shop merchandise. 

The hotel generates approximately $1,000 per month in revenue, while it is estimated, page 4-63 of the FY21 Legislative Budget Book (LBB), a parking facility that would replace the hotel would generate $2,300 per month. However, that difference in income is not significant compared to the cost to build the parking facility and demolishing the hotel for $500,000. The new parking facility would provide 30 additional parking spaces. In the FY18 LBB, page 4-48, it was estimated that a 40-space parking facility would cost $1.65 million. No cost estimate is provided in the FY21 LBB other than to demolish the structure and pave the area. The structure would be built in a few years’ time.

A longer-term lease of the motel could include renovations paid by the vendor. The $100,000 gift shop merchandise request exceeded that of the foundation, which had requested $40,000 and that of the governor.

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The Idaho Spending Index examines appropriation bills on several fronts to add important context to lawmakers’ discussions as they are considered on the floor of the House and Senate. Among the issues we look at in drawing a conclusion about a budget: 

Does the agency requesting these funds serve a proper role of government? Has wasteful or duplicative spending been identified within the agency, and if so, has that spending been eliminated or corrected? Does the budget examine existing spending to look for opportunities to contain spending, e.g., through a base reduction? If there is a maintenance budget, is that maintenance budget appropriate? Are the line items appropriate in type and size, and are they absolutely necessary for serving the public? Does the budget contemplate the addition of new employees or programs? Does the appropriation increase dependency on the federal government?

Our analysis is intended to provide lawmakers and their constituents with a frame of reference for conservative budgeting, by summarizing whether appropriation measures contain items that are sincerely objectionable or sincerely supportable. 

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