HB 372, the new election consolidation bill, is going to the Senate’s amending order. Senate State Affairs Committee members expressed support for the bill, but said a few items still need correcting, including changing the number of months required between school bond elections from five to two. “We have the time to do it quickly and get it back to our friends in the body across the rotunda,” said Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls. Added Senate Assistant Majority Leader Joe Stegner, R-Lewiston, “I think it’s a doable plan, Mr. Chairman.”
The measure, like the earlier HB 201, moves all of Idaho’s elections to two standard dates - the November general election and the May primary date - plus sets two additional dates, in March and August, for school bond or levy elections. Unlike the earlier bill, the new one shifts all the costs for elections, which now all would be run by county clerks and use standardized polling places, to the state. A $4.1 million state appropriation would cover the costs. The earlier bill shifted money from sales tax distributions counties already receive, and also required school districts to pick up the costs if they used the two alternate dates; that caused school districts to oppose the earlier bill.
Senate Minority Leader Kate Kelly, D-Boise, said she was “torn” on the bill, and her main concern was school funding. “The majority of the Legislature changed the system for funding schools dramatically in 2006 to take the funding off the property tax and put it onto the general fund,” she said. “The problems associated with that unstable source of funding are coming home this session when we have made unprecedented cuts to school budgets.” Limiting bond and levy elections, which now can be held on any date, is “limiting another source of revenue for public schools,” Kelly said, saying if such a change is to be made, the two-thirds supermajority required to pass school bonds should be changed. That would require a constitutional amendment. Further, Kelly said, even though the state’s general fund would pick up the cost of the elections under the new bill, “I think a good argument can be made that school districts will pay, because it’s one more thing competing for general funds. Without raising revenues, I don’t know how you continue to make that shift and do all the things you need to do.”
Kelly cast the only vote “no” vote. Supporters of the bill said it will increase voter awareness and voter turnout in Idaho.