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Eye On Boise

Senate kills constitutional amendment, 18-17

The Idaho Senate just voted 18-17 in favor of SJR 108, the bill to amend the state Constitution to shift school operations funding off the property tax and raise the sales tax to make up the difference – but that wasn’t enough to pass the measure, which needed two-thirds approval.

Sen. Brad Little, R-Emmett, urged support for the bill. “Let’s let the voters, the same wise people that elected us, address this vexing problem,” he told the Senate. If the amendment had received two-thirds support in both the House and Senate, it would have gone to voters in November.

Opponents had a variety of reasons for rejecting the measure, with some saying it merely would postpone property tax reform for another year, and others saying a shift from one tax to another wasn’t real reform.

“We have the power to remove the 3 mills (the school operations property tax levy) today, and to raise the sales tax to replace it,” said Sen. Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston. “In my opinion, we ought to do that.”

Sen. Gerry Sweet, R-Meridian, said, “Shifting from one tax to another is not true tax relief. … We have failed to address the most significant component, and that is spending.”

Several North Idaho senators spoke out strongly in favor of the amendment. Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, who co-chaired an interim committee that held hearings around the state on property tax reform, said changing market values on homes have little to do with the cost of adequately funding education. “The citizens of Idaho should have a full-on debate about … our tax structure,” Keough told the Senate. “The K-12 system is the Legislature’s responsibility. We need to take that responsibility into our general fund. … That piece is ours, and that’s why I support this resolution.”

Still pending in the House is a bill to make the same shift, but by statute, without amending the Constitution. The House is at ease now, and there’s some talk of the other major property tax reform bills – increasing the homeowner’s exemption and the “circuit breaker” tax break for the low-income elderly and disabled – coming back out of committee.

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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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