Three bills deserve the recycling bin

Over the past two years, I’ve heard from hundreds of Idahoans concerned about public schools and the “Luna laws,” which voters repealed last November. But I remember most vividly a call I got on the morning of Election Day, from a man who gave his name as Jim, from Preston.

I heard in Jim’s comments the bedrock values many Idahoans share and that were the reason our Vote No on Props 1, 2, and 3 campaign was successful in every county. One remark he made in particular summarized why Idahoans rejected those laws: “You shouldn’t just ignore people,” Jim said. “That’s not the right way to do things.”

Well, I have some bad news for Jim: Here we go again.

The state Legislature’s current session has produced another epidemic of bad ideas that threaten to devastate public schools. I won’t even get into the proposals to mandate cursive or that every student read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” and pass a test on it to graduate from high school. (Someone please show me the data demonstrating that either of those improve student achievement.)

There are three bills now before the Legislature that would reverse what voters decided just four months ago and magnify the financial crisis already facing the state’s public schools, already next-to-last in funding in the country.

All three bills deserve to be sent to the recycling bin, and we need you to tell your own representatives and legislative leaders to reject them. These bills are:

  • Senate Bill 1108 would make it harder to get referenda questions like Props 1, 2, and 3 on the ballot, requiring signatures from 6 percent of voters in 18 of Idaho’s 35 legislative districts, instead of 6 percent of voters statewide. This is a bald-faced effort to stifle the voices of voters, and a slap in the face to voters coming so soon after we used this constitutional tool to repeal the Luna laws.
  • House Bill 260, pushed by the Idaho School Boards Association, allows school boards to unilaterally impose their “last best offer” on their teachers if a contract agreement is not reached by a fixed deadline in June. Voters rejected that in Prop 1 last November because it gives school boards the power to avoid negotiating in good faith.
  • Perhaps most damaging, given how much school funding has been cut in recent years, is HB 276, a proposal from a lobbying group representing the largest corporations in Idaho to repeal the personal property tax (PPT), erasing $120 million in annual revenue from schools and counties that desperately need that money for basic services. An alternative bill, HB 272, from the Idaho Association of Counties, would eliminate the PPT for 89 percent of businesses in Idaho and cost the state $19 million to replace lost tax revenue.

Who benefits from repealing the PPT? Idaho Power gets a $15.4 million a year tax break, Union Pacific Railroad $5.4 million, Avista $4.8 million, Pacificorp $4.6 million, and $2.2 million for Intermountain Gas, among others, according to Mike Ferguson, the former longtime chief state economist who now heads the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

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What’s the net result? Repealing the PPT completely would shift an estimated $41.2 million of property taxes away from personal property and onto real property. So while a few big companies get a huge tax break, it would mean higher property taxes for homeowners, farmers, timberland, and many businesses—for many working Idahoans.

But repealing the PPT completely would be particularly devastating to public schools across Idaho. For starters, the state would provide no replacement funds for levies approved after 2012.

Plus, 84 of Idaho’s 115 school districts now rely on a record $170 million in supplemental levies for basic operating expenses. Those last only one or two years. Passing new ones would become more difficult because shifting the PPT burden onto homeowners and other property owners would increase the cost of a levy for those people.

Even as we on the governor’s education task force are trying to figure out how to improve Idaho’s public schools, the Legislature is again considering bills that would jeopardize this ongoing process — not to mention demonstrate total disregard for the will of voters.

As Jim from Preston would say, “You shouldn’t just ignore people.”

PLEASE ACT NOW. Email your own legislators NOW and urge them to vote against SB 1108 (which would make it harder to get referenda questions on the ballot), HB 260 (allowing school boards to unilaterally impose their “last best offer” on teachers), and HB 276 (repealing the personal property tax).