Idaho homeowners: I get it.
You’re sick of property taxes.
Idaho has the hottest housing market in the country, and chances are when you get your property tax bill, your own home feels like a Rocketship blasting off into space without you in it. In Nampa, where I work, the value of a home has more than doubled in ten years – which is itself only marginally faster than home values statewide.
For the last decade, the Nampa School District—like 91 other school districts throughout the state—has asked voters to approve a so-called “supplemental” levy every two years to fund “supplements” like teaching positions, curriculum, and fixing a roof that’s been leaking for years. When did teachers become “supplemental?” How about students?
At Nampa High, 55% of our students qualify for free and reduced lunch. Low-income students come from low-income families; every dollar paid in property taxes is a dollar that could have gone toward a power bill or a grocery run.
No school district wants to be in the position to ask its families to shoulder even more of the financial burden of educating their kids. Unfortunately, in Nampa, we were in that position – twice. Our most recent levy proposal failed by ten votes. We have no choice but to ask one more time.
While Idaho families are struggling, the state legislature is not doing its job. According to Idaho’s constitution, the state has a duty to “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system” of public schools. The system we have in the real world falls laughably short. Incremental teacher salary increases are a welcome relief, but our representatives prefer spending their new term bickering over already-settled science standards than cooking up a more equitable school funding formula.
Fortunately, Reclaim Idaho is picking up the legislature’s slack. Their “Invest in Idaho” initiative, if it makes the ballot and passes in November, will ask for a modest tax bump from Idaho’s wealthiest earners.
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Just how modest? From an Economics teacher, here are some Idaho tax facts:
If you’re single and make about $12,000 (after deductions), you are already paying Idaho’s top income tax rate. That means no matter whether you’re a school teacher or a millionaire, the state takes the same chunk of your last dollar of income.
Reclaim Idaho’s ballot initiative will add just one more tax bracket for income over $250,000 for individuals. If you’re married, that goes up to $500,000. If you’re like me (and the vast majority of Idahoans), that means your income tax bill won’t change a cent.
Just how much will that change a high-income earner’s salary? Under the current state tax regime, a married couple making $750,000 pays a 6.63% effective tax rate. If this ballot initiative becomes law, that effective tax rate will only change to 7.53%.
Reclaim Idaho is projecting the revenue generated will increase per-pupil funding by about $600 statewide. Given Nampa School District’s roughly 11,000 students, that translates to $6.6 million – about half the money we’re looking to raise from a supplemental levy. Want to slash your property tax bill in half?
Whether it’s property taxes or income taxes, the money has to come from somewhere. Idaho ranks next-to-last in per-pupil spending. When you adjust for inflation, we’re investing less on education than we were before the Great Recession. This failure to invest is coming at precisely the worst time. A recent study by the Brookings Institute noted that under-developed human capital in Idaho will mean the next HP or Micron will pass us on for a state with more workers with STEM degrees.
That’s a huge problem, and it’s only getting worse. Earlier this month, Idaho’s STEM Action Center delivered a report to the legislature showing that more than 7,600 STEM-related jobs went unfilled last year statewide. That resulted in more than half a billion dollars in lost personal income. Imagine what Idaho families could do with that money.
So come on, homeowners. Do yourselves and your kids a favor. Invest in Idaho’s education and its future.