“This is a hill I want to die on.” Chuck Winder, Mike Moyle, and the ITD Building

As the Legislature rolls toward adjournment, one major bump in the road involves the former headquarters of the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) on State St. House Speaker Mike Moyle and Senate President Pro Tempore Chuck Winder are at complete loggerheads over what the state should do with this abandoned site, sitting on 44 acres of the most prime real estate in Ada County.

Aerial image by TOK

This debate contains questions about the proper role of government, the sanctity of contracts, and long term political strategies. To understand the controversy, we must first understand the history:

BoiseDev has been following this issue for a long time. In 2021, it reported that ITD was considering selling the campus, as it was in the process of moving personnel and equipment to the newer campus on Chinden Blvd. The following year, after flooding damaged several floors of the old building, ITD announced a permanent move to the Chinden campus.

In May of 2023, BoiseDev reported that the State St. campus was on the market. According to the article, the City of Boise had been eyeing the property for several years, and had drawn up urban design concepts for a community of high density housing, mixed-use office and residential, and open spaces.

City of Boise plan via BoiseDev

In September of 2023, BoiseDev reported that the State of Idaho had accepted a bid by a group consisting of Hawkins Companies, Pacific Companies, and FJ Management. The following month, it found that the winning bid was approximately $52 million. The winning proposal included a plan for “developing the site consistent with the City of Boise’s Comprehensive Plan and vision for the subject property, including a diverse mix of retail, restaurant, grocery, hospitality, medium‐ and high‐density residential and affordable housing.”

According to members of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee (JFAC), when they convened last fall to begin preparing for the session they believed that a deal was done. The Idaho Capital Sun reported last November that members of JFAC toured the State St. campus and expressed their frustration at not being consulted regarding the sale. Even though selling the property would net the state $52 million, ITD and other agencies were planning to request more than $70 million to build a new headquarters at the Chinden campus.

Members also voiced concerns that it had become unfeasible to replace the asphalt testing site at the State St. campus.

When the Legislature convened in January, lawmakers learned that the sale contract was not complete. Speaker Moyle and Rep. Britt Raybould backed a bill to change the administrative process used by the state to sell property. Moyle admitted that the purpose of the bill was to disrupt the pending sale. “Any time we’ve disposed of ground, around here, we’ve regretted it and now we’re trying to buy some of it back, and it costs way more than what we would have paid for it originally,” Moyle told BoiseDev in January.

H409 passed the House unanimously but has been stuck in the drawer of Senate State Affairs Chairman Jim Guthrie ever since. Sen. Chuck Winder, who sits on that committee, has been open about his opposition to Moyle’s attempts to disrupt the sale.

Last month, JFAC passed a budget that would stop the sale as well as appropriate $32 million to renovate the ITD building on State St. H723 passed the House by one vote, but was killed in the Senate 16-19 after contentious debate. Sen. Winder spoke against the bill on the floor:

“I totally disagree with this process, and somebody asked me if this is a hill you want to die on? This is a hill I want to die on, if I have to. I’m gonna fight this tooth and nail, because it is so far out of line.”

Why is this issue so important to Chuck Winder? Though he has been in politics for many years, his day job is in real estate. Perhaps he believes the integrity of the system is at stake if the Legislature unwinds the pending sale. Other senators pointed out that the contract was not complete, and that either side has the opportunity to back out at this point, but Sen. Todd Lakey argued that a handshake should still mean something.

One thing that’s clear is that a lot of money is at stake no matter what happens here. The developers stand to make a lot of money on this deal, and the City of Boise stands to rake in a lot of tax dollars that are currently not being paid on the property.

With the budget passing the House but failing in the Senate, the two chambers are at an impasse going into what could be the final week of the session.

Take a look at the vote tallies for H723 in the House and the Senate. Notice how this issue crosses the usual factional lines. Most Democrats voted against the budget, with some arguing that blocking the sale would impede more affordable housing in Boise. Some moderate Republicans voted against it as well. Members of the Idaho Freedom Caucus were also split.

Idaho Freedom Foundation rated the budget -5, however none of its concerns were about the potential sale of the State St. property.

A conservative case can be made that disrupting the sale interferes in the sanctity of contracts and trust in state government, as well as that the state should not be holding on to excess property anyway. On the other hand, a conservative case can be made that renovating the building is a better fiduciary use of tax dollars as well as that “affordable housing” often brings more government dependency to a community.

In any case, the Legislature is at an impasse. Will one or two representatives flip to support the sale? Or will two senators flip to oppose it? Will they gavel out without new appropriations for ITD entirely? (Doubtful). The only thing for sure is that there are still a few surprises left before the session ends.

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