Will the K-12 funding formula group revisit tax issues too?

On Thursday, I wrote about the Legislature’s plans to rewrite Idaho’s school funding formula.

It’s going to be a long process of figuring out how to carve up the money that goes to Idaho’s school districts and charters — and how to modernize a funding formula that hasn’t been rewritten since 1994.

But will lawmakers look at the other half of this equation: where school funding comes from?

The financial needs of schools have changed considerably in 22 years. So too has the funding picture:

  • In 1993-94, 51 school districts had supplemental levies on the books, totaling $44.6 million. Today, 94 districts collect $186.6 million in voter-approved property tax levies.
  • During a one-day special session in August 2006, the Legislature approved then-Gov. Jim Risch’s plan to eliminate some $260 million in school property taxes, and use a one-cent increase in the sales tax rate to make up the difference. Critics say the tax shift left schools vulnerable to the vagaries of the sales tax — especially during the Great Recession.

When this committee begins work, will tax topics be on the table?

“I think we need to look at everything and try to evaluate the total system,” said Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls. “How much that changes, that’s up to the committee to decide.”

Wendy Horman
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls

“I think we need to have a holistic conversation,” said Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, who has been named to co-chair the committee.

Of course, the tax questions are politically sensitive, particularly the controversial 2006 tax shift. Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, isn’t sure a Republican-controlled committee will want to revisit this law, passed with the support of only one Democratic legislator.

In an interview this week, House Speaker Scott Bedke seemed lukewarm to taking a second look at tax issues.

Bedke New
House Speaker Scott Bedke

He acknowledged that school administrators dislike the temporary nature of one- or two-year supplemental levies — but also said the levies represent “the purest form of local option.” And he defended the 2006 tax shift, passed during a housing bubble that left Idaho “on the verge of a property tax revolt.”

Bedle voted for the 2006 tax shift, and is one of 18 current legislators who did so.