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State Says Initiative Falls Short Of Promises

The One Percent Initiative doesn’t do everything its sponsor says it does, according to a lengthy opinion from the Idaho attorney general’s office.

The 29-page legal opinion, issued in response to a state senator’s questions, makes several findings:

The initiative’s wording fails to shift community college funding from property tax to the state.

It shifts overall responsibility for building schools from local school districts to the state.

The initiative calls for a system of property tax collection that’s “inoperable.”

It also places limits on local governments’ total budgets, including grants and user fees - not just on the property tax portion of those budgets.

Ron Rankin, president of the Idaho State Property Owners Association and author of the initiative, dismissed the criticism.

“They choose to interpret it that way, and I think they’re doing that just to spook people. I don’t believe the taxpayers of Idaho are gullible enough to believe another sky-is-falling prediction from self-serving bureaucrats, and I think that’s what this is.”

The legal opinion is not binding, but it raises questions about the wording of the initiative and how it might be interpreted in court. However, deputy attorney general Bill Von Tagen said the problems could be corrected by the Legislature.

Rankin wanted to end local property tax funding of community colleges, and the summary of his ballot measure says that. But the measure itself doesn’t mention community colleges, referring only to shifting funding for “all public education” from the property tax to other state general taxes.

Legally, “public education” refers to elementary and secondary schools, the attorney general’s opinion said - not to colleges.

Rankin also intended the state to pick up maintenance and operations costs only for schools statewide, not the cost of buildings. Again, the initiative mentions “maintenance and operation funding” in its summary, but leaves those words out in the text.

The initiative exempts voter-approved school construction bonds, both existing and future, from its tax limits. But by unintentionally shifting responsibility for school buildings to the state, it would encourage the state to provide the basics, and the local districts to “fund additional facilities not provided by the state,” the opinion said.

Initial cost estimates for school funding that would shift to the state hover around $154 million, not including money for school buildings. The initiative also is expected to cut about $75 million from local government budgets.

Local school bond issues require two-thirds approval from voters. If the state were to consider issuing bonds statewide to pay for school buildings, only a simple majority would be needed for a debt of more than $2 million.

The portion of the initiative limiting local government budgets says they can’t increase by more than the cost-of-living index used for Social Security each year.

It exempts increases caused by new construction or annexation.

, DataTimes