BOISE — The group that was the driving force for Medicaid expansion now has its sights on education spending.
Reclaim Idaho has filed paperwork for a voter initiative that would boost corporate and high-end individual income tax rates, and put more than $170 million a year into K-12.
“The politicians in Boise give away our tax dollars to out-of-state interests while Idaho teachers are forced to pay for their own supplies. Idaho’s children find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and property taxpayers in rural districts shoulder an unfair tax burden,” Reclaim Idaho Executive Director Rebecca Schroeder said in a news release.
The new money would come from two tax increases:
A corporate income tax rate of 8 percent, up from 6.925 percent.
A new individual income tax bracket for Idahoans making more than $250,000 a year. This tax rate would come to 9.925 percent, up from 6.925 percent.
Proponents say the plan would reduce the pressure on patrons, who paid more than $200 million in supplemental school property tax levies last year. And they say their plan would reverse a “corporate tax giveaway” legislators passed in 2018. When lawmakers passed corporate and personal income tax cuts, they say, the bulk of the corporate tax reductions benefited out-of-state business.
Proceeds from the new taxes would go into an account proponents call the “quality education fund.” Money from this account could be used for several purposes, including teacher salary increases, reducing class sizes, all-day kindergarten, career-technical programs and textbooks and classroom supplies.
Reclaim Idaho led a voter initiative to expand the state’s Medicaid program, after lawmakers had resisted expansion for seven years. That initiative, Proposition Two on the November 2018 ballot, passed with 61 percent support. The 2019 Legislature tied the expansion to work requirements, a proposal that came under fire during a public hearing Tuesday.
Reclaim Idaho’s education proposal also appears bound to run into opposition — specifically, from legislators who want further reductions in income taxes.
In order to get the initiative on the ballot, organizers will need to get signatures from more than 55,000 registered voters. They must also meet an additional requirement: They must collect signatures from 6 percent of registered voters in 18 of the state’s 35 legislative districts. Once on the ballot, initiatives need only a simple majority to pass.
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Initial reactions were muted.
“The proposed ballot initiative regarding public education underscores what we say consistently — people in Idaho care deeply about their public schools, students and teachers,” Idaho Education Association President Kari Overall said. “The IEA has not taken an official position on the proposed ballot initiative. We wholeheartedly agree with the premise that more investment is needed in our public schools.”
The Idaho School Boards Association and the Idaho Association of School Administrators also withheld judgment. “I will need to discuss this initiative with my board before we take a position,” IASA executive director Rob Winslow said Wednesday.
Gov. Brad Little’s office did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.
Idaho Business for Education, a lobbying group representing CEOs and corporate executives from throughout the state, also did not respond to a request for comment.
State superintendent Sherri Ybarra declined comment.
But one Reclaim Idaho adversary held true to form. The Idaho Freedom Foundation — a conservative lobbying group that opposed Medicaid expansion — called the new initiative “a page taken out of the California public-sector union playbook.”
Said foundation spokesman Dustin Hurst: “Dramatically hiking taxes on businesses, families, and consumers to throw more money at government schools, which struggle to prove their effectiveness, is no way to ensure Idaho kids get the education they deserve.”