Idaho State Agency Won’t Seek Repayment On Broadband Project

A state agency will not see repayment on the defunct Idaho Education Network broadband projectdespite a state Supreme Court order to do so.

Administration Department Director Robert Geddes decided not to seek money from project vendors, Rebecca Boone of the Associated Press reported Friday. And his decision will drop the issue into the lap of Attorney General Lawrence Wasden.

The repayment issue lingers in the wake of the Idaho Education Network demise — and the Supreme Court’s 5-0 ruling that declared the project’s contract void. When the Supreme Court voided the contract, upholding a District Court ruling, the court also ordered the state to seek its money back.

Under state law, agencies cannot advance vendors any money on an illegal contract. Ultimately, the state paid Education Networks of America and CenturyLink $29.7 million for work on installing a broadband system linking high schools across the state.

But don’t worry. It’s just the Idaho taxpayers’ money. We can afford to let it go. 

In a July 25 letter to Wasden, obtained by Boone, Geddes said he believed an “advance” involves money paid to a vendor before the start of a job. He said the payments to the vendors did not constitute an advance.

The Supreme Court’s March 1 ruling clearly directed the state to seek its money back. The ruling gave Geddes’ Department of Administration the first shot — but not the only shot.

“If the appropriate state officer fails to perform this statutory obligation, the state’s chief legal officer can step forward to make the state whole for these unfortunate violations of state law,” Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones wrote in the March 1 ruling.

Wasden hasn’t yet figured out his next move. “This is a complex question, and there’s a lot of legal possibilities to consider before we can decide how to proceed,” spokesman Todd Dvorak told the Associated Press.

Further complicating the issue is the fact that ENA and CenturyLink believe the state owes them back payments for work on the Idaho Education Network project. Like the repayment issue, this aspect of the legal battle could have a multimillion-dollar impact on Idaho taxpayers.

Both vendors have filed tort claims against the state — a precursor to a possible lawsuit. In the waning days of the 2016 session, legislators earmarked $8 million for a possible settlement with ENA and CenturyLink.