Lawmakers in Idaho, Washington a study in contrasts
The bipolar politics of Idaho and Washington will be on full display in 2022, as lawmakers in both states debate ways to spend sizable budget surpluses.
Gem State Republicans come into the Jan. 10 legislative session looking to cut taxes and allocate even more general fund revenues to state and local transportation needs.
Far right Republicans also hope to cut funding for colleges and universities, as punishment for their alleged efforts to indoctrinate students with progressive ideas.
Washington’s Democratic majority, by contrast, will consider a laundry list of proposals from Gov. Jay Inslee, including more money to combat homelessness, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and accelerate the shift to a green economy.
PREDICTION: Political junkies who live along the border will have a nonstop feast of follies to choose from, whatever their philosophical leanings.
It couldn’t get any worse that 2021 … could it?
While area farmers suffered one of the worst crop years in decades in 2021, lightning doesn’t strike twice in the same spot …
Farming and ranching are agonizingly unpredictable, although one year seldom is exactly the same as the previous year. Cereal grain yields in 2021 were knocked back considerably and hay crops were less than 50 percent of normal, which prompted many ranchers to downsize their herds.
Despite recent precipitation that is pretty much normal for this time of year and what seems to be a good start on the emergence of winter wheat crops, the U.S. Drought Monitor continues to rank southeastern Washington and north central Idaho in the extreme drought index.
The Farmers Almanac figures the Pacific Northwest will experience typical precipitation and temperatures over the next few months.
PREDICTION: Farm production in 2022 will be better than 2021 but still challenging with hot and dry weather later on. Winter crops, good; spring crops, not so much.
Phasing out of the pandemic blues?
Arts and culture event organizers in the region are cautiously optimistic about 2022.
For example, Art Under the Elms, the marquee event of the Lewis-Clark State College Center for Arts & History’s Dogwood Festival, is set to return to the LCSC campus in Lewiston after a two-year, pandemic-induced hiatus. A call for vendors went out recently, and the event is slated for April 22-24. Center Director Emily Johnsen said she’s aiming for a renewed emphasis on the arts — visual and performing — with an Idaho focus. One difference this year: Admission will be free.
On the Palouse, the city of Moscow’s Arts Program continues its recently reformulated Artwalk with monthly installments that started in October and continue through May, culminating in the traditional full Artwalk event in June. Also on the docket for arts rejuvenation is a series of art-centered business development workshops, starting in March, at Moscow City Hall. Artists will be paired with a mentor and build a business toolkit through the program presented by the Idaho Commission on the Arts, according to city of Moscow Arts Program Manager Megan Cherry.
PREDICTION: Organizers are unsure, but I predict the formerly annual Rockin’ on the River concert will return to Clarkston, where it has taken place since 2005, after a two-year absence.
Pandemic’s effects still being felt in schools
The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to affect K-12 education in both Idaho and Washington through 2022.
Staffing shortages are creating issues for schools, from teachers to paraprofessionals to bus drivers. A competitive market has many school districts competing for employees with the private sector and other states that can pay more. This could either lead to a loss of services for students or a push to have legislators increase funding for salaries.
Educators are also still catching up from COVID-19 learning loss from remote learning in 2020, particularly in reading in early elementary-age children. For the state of Idaho, this has energized a drive for the state to fund all-day kindergarten. Multiple bills on the program, and how to pay for it, are expected on the legislative agenda.
Idaho superintendents are also waiting to see if the state permanently changes the funding formula for schools from attendance-based to enrollment. The Idaho State Board of Education extended the use of enrollment-based funding at a Dec. 15 meeting and is planning to present legislation to make it a permanent change.
Locally, several school districts in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington will be running supplemental levy elections this spring. Passing those levies could be critical in districts that have lost funding because of enrollment and attendance declines from the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic will also continue to affect higher education because of the changing environment of in-person and remote learning. Higher education is also seeing dips in enrollment as well as challenges in preparing students for the ever-changing job market upon graduation.
PREDICTION: Idaho will move to enrollment-based funding.
Battle will continue over fish and dams
The fate of Snake River salmon and steelhead and the four lower Snake River dams may be revealed as early as next summer.
It’s unlikely to be quite that dramatic, but there are a pair of looming processes set to conclude July 31 that should telegraph how the long-running dispute over fish and dams will play out, at least in the near term.
Two months ago, litigants in a decadeslong court battle over the dams and their effect on threatened and endangered salmon and steelhead announced a temporary ceasefire. The Biden administration is now in talks with the Nez Perce Tribe, Oregon and fishing and conservation groups in the hopes the two sides can reach a “long term solution.”
Off and on over the past two decades, the plaintiffs have challenged successive iterations of the federal government’s plans to balance operation of the Columbia River hydropower system with the needs of migrating anadromous fish. The plaintiffs have a long history of prevailing in those battles and have challenged the government’s latest plan, finalized in 2020 under the Trump administration.
Last fall, both sides sought and Judge Michael Simon of Portland, Ore,. granted a stay in the case. The federal government has not identified what it views as a solution but the plaintiffs have long pushed for the removal of the earthen portions of Lower Granite, Little Goose, Lower Monumental and Ice Harbor dams between Lewiston and the Tri-Cities. Doing so, they say, will reduce dam-related mortality and produce survival rates that would allow the fish runs to recover. But breaching would come at a steep cost — the loss of tug-and-barge transportation on the lower Snake and a reduction in the capacity of the Columbia River hydropower system.
Running parallel to those negotiations is a process led by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Sen. Patty Murray. The two powerful Washington Democrats are seeking ways to replace the transportation and power generation made possible by the Snake River dams. They intend to announce by July 31 their stance on dam breaching.
Inslee and Murray initially gave the cold shoulder to Rep. Mike Simpson’s dam breaching concept. The Republican representing the state’s 2nd Congressional District proposed in February to breach the dams and mitigate affected communities and industries via a $35.5 billion package. The concept was panned by Simpson’s fellow Republicans in the region. But the Nez Perce Tribe led a campaign in support of the idea that may have proved instrumental in convincing Inslee and Murray to launch their process.
PREDICTION: Even if the litigation negotiations and the Inlee-Murray deliberations both result in calls for dam breaching, this battle is far from over, especially if Republicans win control of one or both chambers of Congress in the midterm elections, as many expect.
CITY OF LEWISTON/NEZ PERCE COUNTY
New mayor, council must hit the ground running
The city of Lewiston has a big challenge in the year ahead with its pending transition from a city manager form of government to a strong mayor form. City staff members, especially from the legal department, have already been working to update thousands of lines of city code to reflect the change as Mayor-elect Dan Johnson and a new six-member city council (including five new members) get ready to assume office on Jan. 10.
There is some governmental experience to draw on in the new group, however. Johnson is the state senator from Lewiston and was the city’s former sanitation manager. Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder won reelection in November, and former mayor and City Councilor Jim Kleeburg is returning to the council. And Councilor-elect Hannah Liedkie has several years on the Lewiston Planning and Zoning Commission under her belt.
Their first big decision is coming fast, with an option to buy the former Twin City Foods property in downtown Lewiston on the table. A majority of current city councilors favor the $2 million purchase and a plan to clean up, improve and resell the 11.5 acres in smaller chunks, but they elected to let the incoming council make the final decision.
Nez Perce County government will continue its incremental efforts toward replacing its dilapidated courthouse on Main Street, with plenty of work toward a final design and financing left to do. There have been some minor turf disputes over space allocations, but the process so far has been fairly smooth.
PREDICTION: Both the city and the county have received millions of dollars in pandemic relief funding, and many of the battles to be fought this year will be over how to allocate those resources.
CITY OF CLARKSTON/ASOTIN COUNTY
Plans in place for jail, roundabout
Asotin County and the city of Clarkston are embarking on a couple of major projects in the coming year.
Construction is slated to begin on a new jail in the Clarkston Heights, and Clarkston is building a roundabout near the Interstate Bridge. The new Asotin County Justice Center is supposed to open its doors in early 2023.
The voter-approved jail will be built along Sixth Avenue, across the road from the Asotin County Regional Landfill. The roundabout is going in near Diagonal, Second and Bridge streets to help with traffic flow to popular shopping spots, restaurants and banks in Clarkston. The project will go out to bid in 2022 and preliminary work will likely be visible to motorists, but the roundabout won’t be done until late 2024 or early 2025.
A high-profile court case involving a former Asotin County Superior Court judge charged with sexual misconduct should get underway with Judge Michael Price of Spokane presiding. The Scott Gallina trial will likely take place at the Asotin County fire station in the Heights. No official trial date has been set, but the next hearing is on the court calendar for Jan. 28.
PREDICTION: Gallina’s trial will begin in the spring.
Another SEL factory in the works
North central Idaho and southeastern Washington residents will continue to benefit from the region’s diversified economy that’s underpinned by a robust manufacturing base, higher education and health care.
One of the most important developments in 2022 will be the completion of Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories’ 160,000-square-foot printed circuit board factory in Moscow. SEL plans to begin installing equipment in the building in late summer of 2022 and building construction is projected to be done by the end of the year. The first employees are expected to start reporting to work at the plant in early 2023.
SEL is the region’s largest private employer, designing, inventing and making digital products that protect power grids around the world at sites that include facilities in Pullman and Lewiston.
At the same time, businesses and institutions will have to navigate the same challenges facing employers throughout the nation — COVID-19 and a worker shortage.
What the government requires employers to do to protect their employees from coronavirus is constantly changing in a politically charged environment.
PROJECTION: The worker shortage will likely be an issue for years to come because the number of young people joining the workforce is less than baby boomers and Gen Xers retiring.
Will omicron variant cause another surge?
Reports of new coronavirus cases and deaths in north central Idaho and southeastern Washington start 2022 at subdued levels, but the omicron variant of the virus is looming, even though it hasn’t been detected in a specific case in the region yet.
The push for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 will continue. How vigorous that effort is might depend on the fate of federal vaccine mandates, which are being challenged in the courts. The rates of those who get booster shots will also likely increase.
If the omicron variant does have an intense effect similar to 2021’s delta variant, mitigating measures will likely be put in place by governments, businesses and schools, though it’s unlikely that 2020-style shutdowns will be activated.
PREDICTION: COVID-19 will continue to be something society must deal with, but its effects will diminish as the year goes along.
No auto berth for Warriors; new football coaches on Palouse
This will be the first year that the Lewis-Clark State baseball team will not have an automatic qualifying bid into the Avista NAIA World Series. At least this year, the Warriors will likely earn their spot in a qualifying tournament played at Lewiston. However, there will come a time when LCSC doesn’t make it into the Series, and it will be hard to know how the town will react.
Washington State and Idaho’s football teams each will flourish and prosper under their first-year coaches, Jake Dickert and Jason Eck, respectively. National championship contenders? Probably not. But definitely moving in the right direction.
It’s hard not to book Lapwai’s boys basketball team into the final of the Idaho Class 1A Division I state title game once again. But hey, they don’t play the games on paper, they do on the courts and field. But this crystal ball says yes.
And the magic 8-ball for our area high school football teams? We see Prairie making a return to the mountaintop.
Outside of that, it’s hard to predict and know for sure what’s going to happen in sports. Because the best thing is, anything can happen on any given day.
PREDICTION: Sports as we know them probably never will be the same again. Schedules, in particular, will be moving targets thanks to the pandemic.