Things got a little heated at the end of the legislative leaders panel this morning at the AP Legislative Preview, when House Speaker Scott Bedke said the $44 million in the school budget that was allocated to the voter-repealed “Students Come First” reform laws might not stay with schools, now that those programs have been repealed. “There are people that are eyeing that,” he said, for purposes including eliminating the personal property tax on business property.
“Our caucus would be adamantly opposed to that,” House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, responded. “The schools need that money. It makes sense to reappropriate that in a manner that allows them to use it. I think the outrage over taking money for public schools and putting it to pay off a personal property tax that basically would go to the largest companies in the state is something that not only our caucus would find objectionable.”
Bedke said, “But don’t keep telling me then that we ought to do nothing because the voters have spoken.” He said if the Legislature were to do nothing on education policy because of voters’ rejection of Props 1, 2 and 3 in November, school districts would be left without that money this year. Asked if he personally supports taking the money away from schools, Bedke said he’s the speaker now, not just an individual lawmaker. “I’ve got 57 perfectly good Republican caucus members, all of which have got great ideas,” he said. “I want to hear what they have to say.”
After the panel discussion, Senate President Pro-Tem Brent Hill said he doesn’t support shifting the school money to pay for personal property tax relief. But he noted that all state agencies and programs took funding hits during the recession. “Is it fair that education keep all the money?” he asked. “It needs to go back to the appropriations committee, and they need to divvy it up in an appropriate way.”