Foul economy again is Idaho's top story

By John Miller and Jessie L. Bonner

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Dec. 26 2010 9:00 p.m. MST

BOISE, Idaho — Government leaders couldn't pay their mortgages, lawmakers cut school funding again as tax revenue slipped and the number of jobless statewide edged back over the 70,000 mark.

For the second year, the moribund state economy is Idaho's top story, with the impact of lagging growth, high unemployment and falling home prices seeping into the lives of residents — and their pocketbooks — in ways both profound and mundane.

Homeless shelters in Idaho's capital reported overnight stays had doubled since 2007, the year the state's housing bubble began to burst. In November, more than 219,300 residents, many of them children, used the federal food stamps program to buy groceries.

Here are the other top stories chosen by The Associated Press:

Wolves relisted

Environmentalists cheered and wolf foes howled when U.S. District Judge Donald Malloy in August ruled the federal government erred by delisting wolves in Idaho and neighboring Montana.

The decision spelled doom for a second season of legal wolf hunting, particularly galling for Idaho Department of Fish and Game managers who insisted they'd proven they could responsibly manage the predators.

Church group held

An Idaho businesswoman armed with a group of Christian volunteers rushed to earthquake-ravaged Haiti to rescue orphans from the wreckage. But Laura Silsby and the other Americans were jailed after trying to bring more than 30 children into the Dominican Republic.

The Americans found themselves in the crosshairs of a Haitian crackdown on unauthorized adoptions to prevent child trafficking in the chaos following the earthquake.

An AP investigation later revealed all of the 33 children had at least one living parent, who had turned their children over to the Christian group in hopes of securing better lives for them.

Republican wave

The Republican tide that swept the nation also crashed hard into Idaho, leaving the minority party in tatters and dethroning a Democratic congressman with deep pockets and a lead in most polls before Election Day.

U.S. Rep. Walt Minnick touted his votes against the federal bailouts and health care overhaul, but still couldn't fend off a challenge from tea party favorite Raul Labrador in western Idaho.

Embattled Hart

A lawmaker who doesn't think he should pay income tax and once took trees from state land for his home without paying for them survived an ethics investigation in the Idaho House only to face another complaint, this time, from a fellow Republican. Idaho Rep. Phil Hart was a hero to tea party activists and his struggles were likened to those of Rosa Parks and Nelson Mandela by his attorney.

Oil refinery fight

A mundane road permit application ignited into an uproar, pitting two of the nation's largest oil companies against a handful of residents who live along a winding highway in a forested region of northern Idaho.

The Idaho Transportation Department defended its decision to sign off on permits allowing ConocoPhillips to ship massive truckloads of refinery equipment along the narrow ribbon of mountain road to its Montana refinery.

But opponents of the plan disagreed, and accuse the agency of ignoring its own rules for permitting oversized loads and essentially giving ConocoPhillips pre-approval for the shipments.

Boise State loses

It all started so well.

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