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News >  Idaho

The big three

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Education

The state Board of Education wants to require more math and science for Idaho high school students to graduate, along with other requirements. Community college expansion is a hot issue this year, with the Boise area pushing for its own campus. Education funding is the largest piece of the state budget, and lawmakers have more say over funding levels now that they’ve shifted basic school operational funding from the property tax to the state budget.

Where things stand: Lawmakers set a budget for public schools for next year totaling $1.37 billion in state general funds, a 5.9 percent increase over this year’s budget, including 3 percent more for teacher pay. They also added a backup plan for school districts that stand to lose millions if federal timber payments aren’t reauthorized; the state would reimburse 70 percent of the losses to those timber-dependent districts. For community colleges, lawmakers approved a 6.9 percent increase in state funding, and for the state’s four-year colleges and universities, 8.4 percent. The House defeated a proposal to set standards for early childhood learning programs and passed another measure saying the state shouldn’t impinge on the role of parents in educating preschoolers. Increased math and science requirements for high school graduation won approval, while easing election rules to form a new community college district failed.

Taxes

With the sales tax now at 6 percent – lawmakers raised it from 5 percent in a special session in August – attention has turned to the fact that Idaho is one of only nine states that fully taxes groceries. Many want to either repeal that tax or offset it with an enhanced grocery tax credit. Business interests are pushing for a big tax break on the personal property tax and hoped to trim back property tax relief granted to homeowners last year.

Where things stand: Gov. Butch Otter proposed a targeted grocery tax credit to give a big credit to low-income Idahoans while removing the current credit from higher-income families, but lawmakers on the House’s tax committee rejected it in favor of a pricier proposal from Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, to raise the credit for everyone. That was trimmed in the Senate to raise the current $20 annual credit to $40, and for seniors, from $35 to $60, at a cost to the state of about $32 million. Otter vetoed the bill, even though the final version passed the Senate unanimously and the House with just six no votes. The House voted to override the veto, but the Senate declinedLawmakers voted to have a special joint committee study Idaho’s tax system and exemptions over the summer.

Growth

Idaho’s growing population and changing economy have created pressure on everything from roads to prisons to water use.

Where things stand: A highway bonding plan initially won approval from the joint budget committee for another $246 million round of bonding for major improvements next year but then was defeated in the Senate amid concerns about politicizing the process of deciding which state highway projects are funded. Sparring between the House and Senate over a compromise plan, with roughly $250 million in bonding, dominated the final days of the legislative session. The House tax committee voted down local-option tax legislation that would have allowed communities to pass local sales taxes to fund public transit, after two days of hearings; it refused to even consider two other local-option tax measures.

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