GOP leadership-backed legislation on school construction funding passed the House today on a largely party-line 52-14 vote. The bill, HB 743, puts about $5 million in new state money into school building maintenance next year, while requiring local school districts to contribute $44 million. It also sets up a $25 million loan fund to replace unsafe schoolhouses, but districts couldn’t access it unless they’re taken over by the state, a supervisor is appointed who can fire their superintendent, and their patrons are hit with no-vote property tax increases to pay back the loan after they’ve twice voted against the increases.
“I don’t think it’s possible to create a perfect bill,” said Rep. Steve Smylie, R-Boise, who is running for state superintendent of schools. “This bill takes major steps.”
Rep. Nicole LeFavour, D-Boise, questioned how school districts could come up with the money, and said, “It’s just a new plan to squeeze blood out of a turnip.”
Rep. Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, a sponsor of the bill, said, “We don’t have a statewide problem. We have a problem in a few areas of the state.”
House Education Chairman Jack Barraclough, R-Idaho Falls, said, “In my heart of hearts, I feel this is about as good a bill we can come up with that we can afford.”
The vote was almost a straight party-line split, with all Democrats voting “no,” and all Republicans except Rep. Tom Trail, R-Moscow, voting “yes.” Four were absent.
Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.
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