Idaho Land Board will stick with timberland-buying strategy

Idaho Governor Brad Little’s desire to make a significant course change involving a politically charged strategy on how to invest millions of dollars to benefit public schools and other beneficiaries was rejected Tuesday by his fellow members on the Idaho Land Board.

Little’s motion to permanently move $50 million from a fund intended to buy timberland into market investments failed to get a second and died.

The state buying timberland has drawn fierce opposition from timber companies that complain they can’t compete against the state. County commissioners have also complained that counties lose property tax revenue when the state buys land.

Idaho currently has about $130 million in what’s called the Land Bank fund that’s expected to ultimately reach about $240 million. That money is coming from ongoing sales of commercial real estate and residential properties. Those two types of investments have also caused Land Board members to come under fire for competing with private entities.

The $240 million is considered a rare financial windfall for the Land Board. The board is responsible for managing market investments, currently about $2.5 billion, and about 2.5 million acres of state-owned land for the greatest long-term return. The Land Board this fiscal year is expected to generate more than $84 million for distribution.

A financial advisor previously recommended the state invest the $240 million in timberland and farmland, diversifying the state’s portfolio and providing a buffer to ups and downs of financial markets. The Land Board, led by then-Governor Butch Otter, agreed. (AP)