When Gov. Dirk Kempthorne first asked lawmakers to lower the supermajority for school construction bonds from two-thirds to 60 percent, the idea didn’t go anywhere. It would take a change in the state Constitution, and that means, first of all, each house of the Legislature would have to favor the change by a two-thirds vote, and then it’d have to pass with a majority at the next general election.
However, several things have changed this year. First, the Idaho Supreme Court ordered the Legislature in no uncertain terms to make major changes in how Idaho pays for school construction, in a ruling shortly before the session convened. Lowering the supermajority was one of the items on the justices’ list of suggestions.
Idaho has long been considered the toughest place in the nation to build a school, because it’s the only state that both provides no direct state funding, and requires local taxpayers to vote by a two-thirds margin to raise their own taxes to foot the bill. Some small steps toward state subsidies have been taken in recent years, but it’s been one step forward, one step back.
Here’s the other thing that’s changed: Since the Supreme Court ruling, the top GOP leaders in both houses both say they’ll support putting a constitutional amendment before the voters. House Speaker Bruce Newcomb, R-Burley, told me, “I think the court has instructed us we need to do something in that regard, so that’s it.” Senate President Pro-Tem Robert Geddes said, “I think I could support that under one condition – if elections are consolidated in May and November.”
In Kempthorne’s State of the State message on Monday night, that’s exactly what he proposed – lowering the supermajority to 60 percent if the vote takes place at the primary or general election.
“Place the issue before the people – let them help resolve this issue, the very same people that have the wisdom to elect us,” Kempthorne told a joint session of the Legislature – and they applauded him.