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Idaho to continue buying timberland and farmland

Idaho forest land.

Idaho forest land. The Idaho Land Board has voted to continue buying timberland and farmland to generate revenue for public schools. File photo.

Idaho officials have decided to continue buying timberland and farmland to generate revenue for public schools following a financial consultant’s review of the state’s reinvestment plan for money coming from the sale of commercial and residential real estate.

The Idaho Land Board voted 4-0 July 18 to approve the plan with a few modifications as it seeks to generate money from the state’s 2.4 million acres of endowment lands.

The decision came with the recommendation of financial experts with Callan Associates, the Land Board’s financial consultant on the reinvestment plan. That company helped devise the initial plan that now involves $76 million, with more money expected from future sales.

About $45 million of that belongs to an endowment that benefits K-12 public schools. The rest is split between two beneficiaries with much smaller endowments. One of those is State Hospital South, a mental health facility operated by the state. The other benefits Idaho State University in Pocatello and Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston.

Callan Associates said more analysis is needed to know if locking in the smaller endowments with timberland and farmland is prudent as opposed to choosing more liquid assets such as stocks and bonds. Results of the additional analysis for the smaller endowments will be presented to the Land Board in November, along with more analysis of where to invest the money for the public schools endowment.

“At the end of the day, we are just trying to make sure the asset mix for each of these endowments meets the long-term objectives for the beneficiaries,” Sally Haskins of Callan Associates said after the meeting.

Idaho has been selling hundreds of residential home sites as it gets out of the business of leasing that land. The move began amid concerns the state was not getting fair-market value for the leases.

In addition, the Land Board has sold most of the commercial real estate it managed following complaints that state-owned businesses unfairly compete with private businesses.

As a result of those two upheavals in state endowment land holdings and commercial real estate investments, Idaho is expected to have a windfall of about $160 million to invest with the completion of the sales round 2020.

Secretary of State Lawerence Denney agreed with the financial consultant’s plan to look over how to spend the money for the smaller endowments rather than just opt for timberland and farmland.

“There is a case to be made that you could put them into a position where it would not be beneficial to them,” Denney said after the meeting.

The state has already purchased some timberland, and the Idaho Department of Lands is eyeing more timberland as it seeks to have additional potential purchases in the pipeline.

The Land Board faces a deadline as money from the commercial and residential real estate sales will automatically be transferred into an investment fund if it’s not used within five years following a sale.

Attorney General Lawrence Wasden summed up the reinvestment plan as going well so far.

“Where are we going to end up? I don’t know,” he said after the meeting. “We have a lot of work left to do.”

The state received 3.65 million acres of endowment land at statehood in 1890. Over the years, it has sold about 33 percent and now has about 2.44 million acres remaining. The Land Board is constitutionally mandated to manage that land for the maximum financial return over the long term.

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