GOP leaders introduced a new school facilities bill today – on a 4-3 party-line vote in a hastily-called meeting of the House Ways & Means Committee. Notice of the meeting was posted inside the House chambers – while the House was in session and the public wasn’t allowed in the chambers – about an hour and a half before the noon meeting. It wasn’t on public notice boards that display legislative committee agendas in the Rotunda, nor on the Internet. “I didn’t even think about the Internet last night,” said Ways & Means Chair Jim Clark, R-Hayden Lake. “I forgot.”
The new bill, described by legislative budget analyst Jason Hancock as “son of 690,” makes only two significant changes from the controversial HB 690 that GOP leaders proposed earlier: It allows most school districts to continue to receive a minimum 10 percent bond levy subsidy on bonds their voters pass, as they’re entitled to under current law (HB 690 eliminated most districts from the program), and it requires school districts to submit an annual maintenance plan based on “best practices.” House Majority Leader Lawerence Denney, R-Midvale, said both ideas were taken from a Democratic alternative bill, HB 691. But the Republicans opted against changing their bill’s most controversial provisions – requiring that in order to access $25 million in state funds to fix unsafe schoolhouses, a school district would have to be taken over by the state, run temporarily by a state official who could fire its superintendent, and its patrons ordered to pay a no-vote property tax increase to pay back the state funds after they’ve specifically voted twice against such an increase.
“I think any bill that you bring like this has to have vinegar to go along with the honey,” Denney said. Otherwise, he said, “We end up building all the buildings in the state.”
The new bill, like HB 690, puts little new state money into school construction other than the $25 million loan fund, which education officials said no one would ever tap because of the restrictions.
House Speaker Bruce Newcomb told the Ways & Means Committee that the measure makes it possible to guarantee there are no unsafe schools in the state, while at the same time, “People who refuse to pass a bond don’t get off scot-free when other people have passed bonds.”
The Idaho Supreme Court in December declared Idaho’s system for funding school construction almost entirely with local property taxes unconstitutional, and ordered the Legislature to fix it.