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Batt’s Property Tax Reduction Proposal Won’t Have Easy Ride

The chairman of a panel working on Gov. Phil Batt’s $40 million property tax reduction bill says it is on a “fast track” and any competing proposals had better be submitted quickly.

But fast track or not, it appears the governor’s plan to cut local property taxes for schools by $40 million, replacing the revenue with state funding, won’t get through the Legislature easily.

A subcommittee of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee opened discussion of the Batt plan on Wednesday, but a state senator and school superintendents urged different approaches.

“The problem out there is facilities,” said Tom Morley, superintendent of the Sugar-Salem District in eastern Idaho.

He and Bob Haley, superintendent of the Meridian School District, worried that under the Batt plan, some districts might have less money to spend than they now get.

Sen. Hal Bunderson, R-Boise, said he and others are working on a proposal to allow school districts, cities or counties to use the $40 million to leverage bonds and facility construction.

“That leveraging would provide major property tax relief,” he said, instead of the tiny amount the governor is proposing.

Rep. Charles Cuddy, D-Orofino, called the bonding proposal “bait” to get people to approve bond issues. But if they get a small property tax cut and then have to make larger tax payments for bonds, there is no real savings, he said.

Morley and Haley said districts need a way to build and maintain their facilities. A 1992 study showed the state’s 112 school districts had more than $700 million in unmet facility needs.

Morley said two districts in his area, Teton and Fremont, have “major, major facilities problems” but the region’s farm-based economy isn’t sufficiently affluent to get patrons to approve construction bonds.

“They are dying out there.”

Haley said his district, second-largest in Idaho behind neighboring Boise, has proposed a $27 million bond issue, and the Boise district has bonding plans.

“We’re going to have fun,” he said, if the governor’s tax reduction bill is enacted, giving small tax cuts offset by larger increases to pay for school bonds.

The superintendents said they are working on their own tax proposal, and Rep. Golden Linford, R-Rexburg, subcommittee chairman, told them to hurry. “I suspect this other one (the Batt bill) is on a fast track,” he said.