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Thu., Oct. 21, 2010

Editorial: Four Idaho resolutions merit voter approval

Four proposals to amend Idaho’s constitution await voters on Nov. 2. All involve money, a predictable cause of anxiety, but each has been drafted thoughtfully enough to win overwhelming majorities in Idaho’s conservative Legislature.

We believe each measure deserves voter approval.

Senate Joint Resolution 101 – Idaho’s 1890 constitution prohibits the University of Idaho from charging tuition. Other state colleges and universities in Idaho do so, but not UI. It charges “fees” instead.

What’s the difference, other than the label? Not the amount of money raised, which is comparable to the tuition charged at UI’s sister institutions of higher learning. Rather, it’s that UI can’t spend “fees” on the cost of instruction.

This amendment would eliminate ensuing bookkeeping complications.

Opponents contend that the prohibition on tuition should remain, because the state’s founders wanted higher education to be free. Higher education hasn’t been free for a long time, and defeating SJR 101 wouldn’t make it so. Passing it would end a charade that encumbers university management.

House Joint Resolution 4 – This is one of three measures designed to untie the hands of certain public institutions whose ability to operate effectively was hampered when the state Supreme Court shut down an option that had worked well for 30 years.

In the 1970s the Idaho Supreme Court upheld the ability of entities like public hospitals to issue revenue bonds for the acquisition of facilities, land, equipment and technology. They didn’t need to put it to voters, but they weren’t allowed to use tax money to retire the bonds. They had to pay them off with revenue from the facility’s operation. That’s how Kootenai Medical Center was built.

In 2006, however, the Supreme Court reached a different decision, ruling that such a process was unconstitutional.

That created a bind for entities, including the state’s public hospitals, most of them in small, rural communities. Now they must put revenue bonds to a vote, and the ballot explanation must explain the level of property tax it would take to retire the bonds – even though taxes can’t be used for that purpose.

Could the process be any more confusing and cumbersome, especially in a state where a measure needs a two-thirds majority to pass? Well, you could require that any such vote be held on one of two permissible dates, regardless of whether the timing is favorable for fluctuating interest rates.

Passage of HJR 4 would restore the capacity that benefitted Idaho for three decades. Voters would be wise to vote yes.

HJR 5 – This constitutional amendment does for public airports what HJR 4 does for hospital districts. The same arguments apply.

HJR 7 – This measure pertains to cities that own municipal electrical utilities. If HJR 7 passes, they still would need voter approval of bonds to build or buy structures and equipment, but a simple majority, not two-thirds, would suffice. Moreover, they could acquire wholesale electricity without an election.

These four sensible amendments should be adopted.

The Spokesman-Review Editorial Board

Members of The Spokesman-Review editorial board help to determine The Spokesman-Review's position on issues of interest to the Inland Northwest. Board members are:

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