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Eye On Boise

Freshman rep’s push for changes stalls school tax credit bill

Heather Scott (Betsy Russell)
Heather Scott (Betsy Russell)

Legislation proposed by the state Board of Education to extend a popular tax credit for donations to schools has been hung up in a House committee for more than six weeks as a freshman North Idaho lawmaker pushes for amendments designed to more clearly require that school foundations, museum foundations and the like really pass the donations along to the schools and museums they’re formed to benefit.

Rep Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said told Eye on Boise Friday that she doesn’t want to remove the tax credit from any foundations that currently get it, despite rumors that she’s after her local Panhandle Alliance for Education. “They’re doing great things in my district,” Scott said.

She said her concern is that the current law, which is due to expire at the end of 2015 if lawmakers don’t extend it, opens up the possibility that foundations could give out the tax credit to donors, but then use the money for things like administration, fundraising or endowments, rather than giving it directly to the schools, museums, libraries or other educational organizations that qualified the donations for the tax credit in the first place. “It could be going on, but I’m not claiming that,” Scott said. “I’m just saying it’s a potential. I really want to make sure if we’re giving tax dollars away to go to these groups.”

Scott, who’s assembled a stack of files of research into the issue, said the state Tax Commission says Idaho is giving out $7.3 million to $7.4 million in tax credits under the current law. “Is that money going to the schools? All of it’s not,” she said. “Basically, these groups can spend that any way they want. There’s no oversight that they’re actually going to the schools.”

Scott said amendments to the bill are in the works, but haven’t been finalized. “Right now we’re looking at just a few sideboards to have some oversight,” she said. “I think all these groups have really good intentions. It’s the potential.”

House Revenue & Taxation Committee Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said, “We’re looking at some things. … There are some questions, not just from Rep. Scott,” he said, about “accountability, where the dollars are raised and where they’re going to. Rep. Scott has been the big push, but there are other things.” He added, “We’re not looking to kill the bill.”

Asked if he wants the tax credit removed from donations to public school foundations, including his own local one in Nampa, Collins said no. “It isn’t my intention to cut ‘em out,” he said. “We’re taking a look at some things. There’s no real pressure to get it moving that fast. It doesn’t sunset ‘til the first of next year, so this tax year is safe.” Collins said the bill, HB 45, may even resurface as a whole new bill. You can read a full report from Idaho EdNews reporter Jennifer Swindell online here.

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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