Idaho’s new “liberty legislators” are a group of like-minded lawmakers who tend to skew toward the farthest-right realm of the state’s Republican Party. Many of its members accuse their fellow Republicans of being too liberal, trying to swell the government or, whelp, attempting to strip Idahoans of the liberties we all hold so dear.
Mostly, though, the group has worked to become a thorn in the side of the state’s establishment GOP.
But now, it seems, even the state’s most libertarian bloc has finally succumbed to the strange ailment that seems to affect nearly every lawmaker sent to Boise. Perhaps it’s something in the Statehouse drinking fountains, or maybe it’s unknown particles in the air conditioning vents. Either way, there’s no escaping it: Eventually, every lawmaker comes to believe that the Legislature always knows best.
There was a terrible outbreak last year when lawmakers passed bills to keep local communities from deciding for themselves what the minimum wage should be. Or whether to ban plastic grocery sacks.
It’s the same malady that, session after session, allows lawmakers to block cries from Twin Falls for the freedom to decide for ourselves what sales tax rates we pay through a local-option sales tax.
This year, even the "liberty legislators” have a really bad case of Boise Knows Best.
On Monday, Rep. Heather Scott introduced a bill that would block school districts from seeking for a year any levies or bonds that have previously failed. Essentially, the bill would strip local voters from deciding the fates of their local schools, as well as their taxes. Scott says the bill is needed to keep “aggressive” taxing districts from bombarding voters with request after request for new funding through tax increases.
Not surprising, but Scott is totally missing the point. Districts are turning to voters because they have to, not because they’re greedy. The Legislature isn’t adequately funding schools, so districts have to ask voters for additional support just to keep buildings maintained and the lights turned on.
Most Republicans defend this practice by saying that local control over levies and bonds is really an expression of liberty, because, well, local voters get to decide through bonds and levies what they want their school tax rates to be.
This is a clever rhetorical device that allows them to continue to ignore the fundamental root problem in Idaho’s education system: Lawmakers aren’t funding schools like they’re obligated to under the state’s Constitution.
And that’s creating widespread problems of inequality across the state. In relatively affluent communities like Twin Falls, voters have repeatedly passed bonds and levies that have led to new school buildings, better technology and higher-paid teachers. In more-rural communities like Shoshone, attempts at supplemental levies have sometimes failed by narrow margins, setting students back even further.
If Scott had her way, maybe the state wouldn’t be paying anything for public schools. That’s not a particularly popular position, so, in her mind, perhaps this is the next best thing: Strip away local control, and make it even harder for schools to get funding.
That’s not liberty. That’s tyranny.
But try telling that to any lawmaker in Boise. It is they, after all, who always know best.