Balukoff vows to revisit ’06 schools tax shift

Idaho needs a governor who is willing to fix the school funding problems former Gov. Jim Risch created in 2006, gubernatorial candidate A.J. Balukoff said Tuesday.

Balukoff square
A.J. Balukoff

Balukoff, the Democratic candidate for governor, released a 2,400-word “vision statement” on education, the economy and government accountability, the centerpiece issues in his challenge to two-term Gov. Butch Otter.

Balukoff vows to revisit Risch’s tax overhaul, which eliminated $260 million in school property taxes and added a penny to the sales tax to make up $210 million of the difference.

Here’s what Balukoff said about the tax shift, approved by the Legislature in August 2006.

“It greatly destabilized schools fiscally (as some of us predicted it would at the time) and led to the profusion of supplemental levies (totaling over $1 billion under Gov. Otter) — which do not give districts the ability to plan long-term because they only last two years. Having talked to legislators from both parties, I believe many understand the critical need for adequate and stable funding. We just haven’t had a leader that is willing to roll up his sleeves and find a solution. I will.”

Otter square
Gov. Butch Otter

During a debate last week, Otter defended fellow Republican Risch and the property tax overhaul. Otter suggested Balukoff will have to raise taxes in order to fulfill all of his promises — including reversing the Risch tax shift.

Balukoff maintains that the state can ramp up its commitment to school funding without raising taxes.

“There is no justification for talking about raising taxes until we’ve assured people that every dollar we bring in is spent efficiently,” Balukoff said Tuesday. “The truth is, Idaho brings in billions of dollars a year in revenue. We can afford to invest more in education by resetting priorities.”

The tax debate spilled over into the third Otter-Balukoff debate Tuesday night — this one aired by KTVB.

In a testy closing exchange Tuesday night, Otter accused Balukoff of changing his campaign website to remove references to pursuing a statewide property tax to fund schools. Balukoff denied he supported such an idea, saying the state Constitution prohibits a statewide property tax. (More from Tuesday night’s debate from Betsy Russell of the Spokane Spokesman-Review.)