A Twin Falls lawmaker’s proposal to replace local property taxes that fund community colleges with an additional statewide liquor tax is drawing good reviews in North Idaho.
“This is something that should have been done years ago,” said Ron Rankin, president of the Idaho State Property Owners Association and an anti-property-tax activist.
Taxpayers in only three counties - Kootenai, Twin Falls and Jerome - pay local property taxes to help support community colleges. The state picks up the full tab, without property taxes, for Idaho’s four-year schools.
North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene and the College of Southern Idaho in Twin Falls are the state’s only community colleges, but some of the four-year schools also act as community colleges for their areas.
“It’s important to both our schools that there be some effort made by the state to help us reduce the burden to the local property taxpayer in our two college districts,” said Bob Bennett, NIC president. “I think the person living in this county is certainly supportive of the college, but they feel it’s kind of unfair for them to have to give extra dollars” when residents of other counties don’t.
Rep. Ron Black, R-Twin Falls, still is finalizing his proposal. He says he hopes a small hike in the state liquor tax can eliminate or greatly reduce property taxes for community colleges. Liquor taxes already are tapped for a portion of community college funding.
“We need to create a funding source or mechanism exclusive of putting it on just those counties that surround the community college,” Black said.
In Kootenai County, property taxpayers are anteing up $5.4 million for NIC this year, about one-third of the college’s budget.
“It’s not fair to the taxpayers in those counties to have to do it,” Black said. “They were good enough to put their funds into it to begin with, to support them (community colleges) and get them going. I think it’s time for us to step in.”
Also driving Black’s proposal is a move by a group of Jerome County residents to secede from the College of Southern Idaho district to avoid the property taxes.
When other counties send students to community colleges, they pay a per-student tuition. But the money comes out of a portion of their liquor tax revenues earmarked for that purpose, Black said. And if a county has few students going to community colleges, it gets to keep the liquor tax money for other purposes.
Black is chairman of the House Education Committee and is co-chairman of an interim legislative committee that’s looking at higher education in Idaho. The interim committee will discuss community college funding at a Boise meeting Dec. 8.
Black said he hopes to get numbers today that will help him finalize his proposal and present it to the committee as proposed legislation.
House Majority Leader Bruce Newcomb, who serves on the committee, said, “I think it’s something the Legislature needs to address.”
Rankin noted that his One Percent Initiative, proposed for the November 1996 ballot, would ban the use of property taxes for community colleges along with public schools. That would force the state to turn to other taxes.
Rankin called Black’s proposal wise and said only politics have prevented it from being enacted earlier. “It’s difficult to get 41 counties that are not paying anything to pony up their share.”
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