State Schools Superintendent Anne Fox on Wednesday called for a penny increase in the state’s five-cent sales tax to help school districts begin cutting into a school facilities backlog that is approaching $1 billion statewide.
Fox acknowledged the political problems that would haunt such a move in the 1996 election year session, but she said with homeowners in every corner of the state rejecting property tax-raising bonds and levies to address inadequate facilities some alternative must be considered.
“My only solution I can come up with is a one-cent sales tax dedicated to school buildings,” Fox told 50 high school student leaders during the Junior Statesmen Symposium on Idaho Politics and Government.
But neither Gov. Phil Batt nor House Speaker Michael Simpson would support the idea of a general tax increase during the 1996 election year session.
“Bad idea,” was Simpson’s immediate response, although he predicted lawmakers would take some action next winter on the school facilities problem.
Still, Fox said she intended to have the sales tax hike introduced once lawmakers reconvene in January. Fox said the legislation would earmark the entire $112 million a cent of sales tax would generate each year to school construction. The cash would be allocated under a still-to-be-determined formula to each of the 112 school districts and could only be spent with the approval of district voters. In addition to paying for construction, the money could be used to pay off bonds that district patrons are currently underwriting through higher property taxes.
“During the race last year, most of the people I talked to, I got a lot of support from - as long as there was local control,” Fox said.
Idaho’s current five-cent sales tax ranks about in the middle among all the states imposing a sales tax - 22 levy higher rates. But at six cents on the dollar as Fox proposes, only six states - Rhode Island, Illinois, Mississippi, Texas, Nevada and Washington - would have higher sales taxes.