By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
After proposing sweeping changes to Idaho’s tax policy to benefit education, Gov. Brad Little received public support Tuesday afternoon, though some expressed reservations about details in the plan.
Little signed a proclamation to call the Legislature back for a special session to review a proposed tax policy change on Sept. 1.
The legislation would be the largest tax cut in Idaho history, with $500 million going to Idaho residents in rebates and more than $150 million in ongoing tax cuts. It would distribute $330 million annually from sales tax revenue to K-12 education, with another $80 million going to a new in-demand careers fund.
The Idaho Education Association, which supported the Quality Education Act, said members “enthusiastically endorse” the stated education goals of the upcoming special session of the Idaho Legislature.
“Injecting record new funding into the Public School Income Fund by statute would be the Legislature’s first serious step in generations toward meeting its obligation “to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools,” as spelled out in the Idaho Constitution,” the IEA said in a press release.
The Idaho School Boards Association also issued a statement of support for the proposed special session, as did the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
“Public school supporters across our great state are hopeful that this proposed legislation will be passed and are grateful that our voices are heard regarding the crisis of funding for public education,” said IASA Executive Director Andrew Grover in a Tuesday news release. “We thank Governor Little for his continued support of education and the many legislators who have taken an active role in funding our state’s greatest asset, the education of Idaho students.”
Hesitancy over details
The Quality Education Act is still set to be on the November ballot after advocacy group Reclaim Idaho gathered enough signatures for a citizen’s initiative.
The Quality Education Act would add a new bracket to the tax code, increasing taxes for people with income above $250,000 or $500,000 for joint filers. The initiative would also increase the corporate income tax. But if Little’s proposal passes, the Quality Education Act could be void, even if voters approve it, as Little’s proposal flattens the income tax brackets to 5.8 percent.
Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville issued a statement Tuesday afternoon on the governor’s plan, saying it could have serious implications for the initiative his group worked to get on the ballot.
“This proposed investment in education is a big step forward for Idaho and a victory for the thousands of volunteer petitioners and petition signers across the state who’ve called for large-scale investments in our public schools,” Mayville wrote. “The proposal contains some bad elements. For one, it is clearly designed to supplant the Quality Education Act— an initiative that earned a place on the ballot after gaining the signatures of over 100,000 Idahoans. And when it comes to tax policy, the Governor’s proposal overburdens the middle class and gives unneeded tax breaks to large corporations and the wealthy.
“But on balance, the bad elements of the Governor’s proposal are outweighed by the good,” Mayville wrote. “Even as the proposal aims to supplant the Quality Education Act, it hands a major victory to the thousands of volunteers and supporters who circulated and signed the initiative. The governor proposes $410 million in ongoing funding for education. An investment of this scale would never have been on the table if not for the Quality Education Act campaign.”
Members of Democratic leadership expressed support for the governor’s plan, but said it wouldn’t have happened without the citizen’s initiative. Some urged caution.
“It took the pressure of thousands of Idahoans, who demanded to be heard about lagging education funding, to succeed in securing an education initiative on the ballot,” said Senate Minority Leader Michelle Stennett said in a news release. “The initiative spurred the creation of this bill’s proposed dedicated funds, which are an important step forward, but do not solve our teacher shortage or address our children’s safety in crumbling school facilities. These revenues would not be usable until 2024, however the proposed tax refund would be immediate. This lopsided tax cut gives a little relief to Idahoans during these difficult times, but mostly favors the well-connected and not low income Idahoans. If we had used that money instead for paying off school debt from bonds and levies, people would have enjoyed real property tax relief.”
The Mountain States Policy Group, a new free market think tank based in Coeur d’Alene and Boise, praised Little’s flat tax proposal, but expressed concern about a lack of metrics or measurable outcomes associated with the increase in spending.
“This is almost $100 million more than is called for in the Quality Education Act initiative being put before voters in November. Unfortunately, increased education spending does not necessarily lead to better outcomes,” the think tank said in a Tuesday statement. “It will be important for the legislature to confirm the money is being spent wisely. Based on research about what’s best for children, Mountain States Policy Center recommends any increases in education spending go directly toward funding students, not systems.”