Reduce the supermajority for school bonds

It’s election time.  You have just punched the ticket for the candidate of your choice.  You are proud to participate in the election process.  The right to vote is important to you.  You are concerned about this particular election, have watched the issues, and are anxiously awaiting the outcome.
 
At the designated time, the final results are in.  Your candidate easily won the vote count by nearly a 2-1 margin — 66.51 percent of the voters picked your candidate.  Your community solidly supports this candidate for office.
 
But there’s a catch.
Sean Coletti
Sean Coletti

You soon learn that your candidate lost.  The 33.49 percent who voted for the other candidate were given a weighted vote.  Every vote for the other candidate was worth nearly two votes for yours.  And now you feel not only exasperated, but cheated.

Recently, 66.51 percent of patrons of the Bonneville School District voted for a bond to build a new high school.  Only two months earlier, 65.7 percent of these patrons voted in support of the same bond.  Neither time was the outcome enough.  “Dismayed” cannot adequately describe what a voting supermajority feels that still loses.
 
In Idaho, bonding is the only mechanism for a school district to raise the money necessary to construct a new school.  But under Idaho’s Constitution, school bonds must be passed by a two-thirds supermajority (66.67 percent), or they do not pass at all.
 
My initial thought following the Bonneville election was that we must be an anomaly.  But I was wrong.  The practical reality of this two-thirds requirement is significant.  Over the past 10 school years, 32 of 71 failed school bonds in Idaho received over 60 percent support.  That means over 45 percent of all failed bonds enjoyed broad approval.
 
Why do we do this?  Why do we disenfranchise a large majority of our school district patrons?
 
The basic purpose of a supermajority is to protect the minority from the boundless will of a majority to increase taxes. I get that. But wouldn’t a 60 percent supermajority do that?  Sixty percent, mind you, is not an easy number to reach in any election.  The fact that 45 percent of all failed bonds over the last 10 years surpassed a 60 percent threshold tells me that something is wrong with the system.
 
I’m calling on the Legislature in the next session to support a reduction in the Constitution supermajority requirement for school district bonding from 66.7 percent to 60 percent.  This requires a Constitutional amendment.  Two-thirds of both houses of the Legislature must ratify a proposed amendment for it to then be put on the ballot.  Once on the ballot, a simple majority of Idaho voters must approve the amendment for the Constitution to change.
 
I am familiar with the unflattering history of this issue.  The Idaho Legislature has reviewed 13 attempts since 1990 to lower the supermajority to 60 percent (or lower) for school bonds, with the last effort in 2006.  Each time, the Legislature did not even send the proposed amendment to the voters for consideration.
 
But if an idea is right, all the history in the world should not stop it from being considered.  The Legislature simply must make it easier for a vast majority of school patrons to decide the future of their school district.  In all states but Idaho and Kentucky, 60 percent is enough to pass a school bond.  It should be enough in Idaho as well.
 
If you agree, tell your legislators.  It’s time for a constitutional provision on school bonding that makes sense; that works.  It’s time to lower the supermajority.
 
Sean Coletti is an attorney at Hopkins Roden in Idaho Falls. He serves on the Ammon City Council.

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