When I worked as a policy advocate for children’s issues at the Idaho Statehouse, I had a mentor who also operated in a majority-Republican state. He used to say, “You can’t get anything for kids unless the rich get more.”
Sadly, this proved true during Idaho’s Sept. 1 “Special Session.”
We saw the same sort of upside-down tax package that Republicans have been passing for years. They remained laser-focused on cutting income taxes at the top and indifferent when it comes to the fairness of our sales and property taxes. The resulting legislation cuts the corporate tax rate to 5.8%, which is lower than the 6% sales tax. Soon a corporation will pay a lower tax rate on its profits than regular Idahoans pay when they buy food, diapers, medicines and other necessities. On top of that came another round of lopsided one-time rebates, with a minimum of $300 for working folks and an average check of $6,485 for households in the top 1%.
These perverse tax priorities don’t represent the values of ordinary Idahoans and yet they have become inevitable under the Republican supermajority. We were almost certain to see this tax package pass in January, if not during the “Special Session.”
So, what was different? This time we got something for kids.
The bill we passed sets aside $410 million for our schools and higher education. I’m proud that the entire Democratic Caucus voted to support our students and teachers.
For decades, the Republican supermajority has chronically underfunded education. Our facilities are in disrepair, classrooms are overcrowded, and vacancies are going unfilled. We have the unfortunate distinction of coming in last in the nation for education investment. This new injection will not solve our funding woes, but it is a desperately needed step in the right direction.
We didn’t get here because Republicans finally saw the light when it comes to supporting our kids. In fact, many Republican legislators only went along with this bill because it was a way to get the revenue cuts they crave. The anti-education rhetoric I heard on the House Floor was hard to stomach.
The only reason Republicans agreed to boost education investment was because their backs were up against the wall. The entire “Special Session” was an end-run around the Quality Education Act, a ballot initiative by Reclaim Idaho. The initiative would have reinstated the income tax rate that the wealthy and corporations used to pay and dedicated those new funds to schools, starting Jan. 1. This was so offensive to Republican lawmakers and their donors that they had to preempt it. The Republicans designed their bill to go into effect on Jan. 3. This puts their rewrite of the tax code on auto-pilot, undoing the ballot initiative just 48 hours after it would go into effect.
I thank Reclaim Idaho for putting pressure on the Legislature to make this investment. We would not be here today if not for the more than 1,000 volunteers who collected 100,000 signatures to put education funding on the ballot.
My family and I were among those volunteers and saw the strong support across the state for adequately funding schools and asking the well-off to contribute their fair share. As we knocked on doors, nobody told us they supported the kind of upside-down revenue cuts the Republicans keep passing.
Idaho Democrats will continue to fight for strong investments in our schools and fair tax policies that lift up working people and families – not just those at the top. It’s what we do and it’s who we are.