Voters again were turning a deaf ear to conservative activist Ron Rankin’s perennial push for property tax reform Tuesday, voting down his One Percent Initiative by a wide margin.
Four years after a similar measure was defeated 2 to 1, an 11th-hour advertising blitz by opponents appeared once again to seal the initiative’s fate.
Despite its apparent defeat statewide, the initiative was holding a 4 percent lead in Rankin’s home turf: Kootenai County.
“That tells me that legislators here who opposed the One Percent weren’t accurately representing their constituents,” Rankin said.
Critics maintained Rankin’s measure was fraught with complications and threatened to undermine public education. They said income and sales taxes likely would have risen to recoup the loss of hundreds of millions of dollars in school funding.
Rankin unsuccessfully argued the initiative was clear and would merely force the state to set spending priorities.
Either way, Boise State University political scientist Jim Weatherby this year termed it “one of the most important public policy decisions made in Idaho in the last few decades.”
The initiative would have capped property taxes at 1 percent of assessed value after exemptions. It also would have removed public school maintenance and operations funding from property tax rolls and limited government budget increases to the same cost of living index used to calculate Social Security.
After a resounding defeat in 1992, Rankin eliminated the initiative’s easiest criticisms - that it would lead to cuts in police or homeowners’ exemptions. He also paid a signature-gathering group to ensure the initiative’s position at the top of the ballot.
The battle over the initiative took a new course this year.
Idaho land values continued their dramatic rise and several one-time foes had publicly backed Rankin’s efforts. Rankin appeared to head into fall with growing momentum.
His cause also seemed helped by Idaho’s Republican Legislature, which promised in 1994 to remove maintenance and operations from property tax. Led by GOP Gov. Phil Batt, officials instead only cut 25 percent of the controversial levy and capped spending increases for local government bodies at 3 percent a year.
Rankin claimed officials had “broken their word.”
But while the Idaho Education Association spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting the 1992 initiative, critics this time got their message across cheaply by staying silent through summer and early fall.
In late September, a coalition of business, education and civic interests traveled the state, touting the dangers of the initiative to public education. They relied heavily on a final-month campaign and advertising blitz to drum up opposition.
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