North Idaho Rep. Heather Scott today proposed legislation to forbid school districts or other taxing districts that have a levy or bond vote fail from trying again for a year.
“The purpose of this bill is to protect voters from aggressive taxing districts that repeatedly run bonds or levies until they finally pass as a repackaged proposal that’s more palatable, or when availability of voters is at its lowest,” Scott, R-Blanchard, told the House State Affairs Committee. She said currently, “Defeats are subject to be challenged repeatedly up to four times a year … usually until the opposition yells ‘mercy.’”
Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, a lawyer, said the wording Scott proposed appeared to foreclose any type of bond or levy vote for 12 months after one fails – even for an unrelated matter, like a school district’s supplemental levy; those go to voters for renewal every two years.
“My intent is just the same ballot question, that same exact thing,” Scott said. “And so I would be open to a word or two being slipped in to the appropriate spot, if you think that that’s not clear enough.”
Luker proposed adding “of the same type or subject.”
Reps. Elaine Smith, D-Pocatello, asked how that would apply if a school district, for example, proposed an unsuccessful bond for a high school and a middle school, and then came back with a proposal for just the high school.
“It is a little vague,” Luker acknowledged, “because the same subject is still a school building, but it is a little subject to interpretation.”
Rep. Randy Armstrong, R-Inkom, said, “I’ve been continually frustrated by the fact that these agencies come back and bludgeon the electorate over and over and keep going ‘til they get their thing passed.” He moved to introduce the bill with Luker’s wording added, and the motion passed with just one “no” vote, from Smith. The panel’s other Democratic member, Rep. Paulette Jordan, D-Plummer, was absent.
The vote clears the way for a full committee hearing on the bill.
Repeat school bond issues and levies are not uncommon, Idaho EdNews reports. The Bonneville School District in eastern Idaho passed a $55.3 million bond for a new high school in 2015, after three previous attempts failed in 2014 and 2015. The West Ada School District, the state’s largest district, passed a $96 million bond issue in March of 2015, seven months after voters turned down a $104 million proposal.
Scott said, “My intent with this is don’t just pick a number in the sky and throw it out there and see if you can get a yes vote from voters, really think about what you need and what you want for the district and what is necessary for the district.”
The bill’s proposed new limitation would apply to school districts, community college districts, cities, counties, and all other taxing districts in Idaho.