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Eye on Boise: School donations bill stalled in House

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.

Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said she wants 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.

Scott said Friday that she doesn’t want to remove the tax credit from any foundations that currently get it, despite rampant Statehouse 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 has assembled a stack of files of research into the issue, said the state Tax Commission says Idaho is giving out more than $7 million a year 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, HB 45, 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 and Taxation Committee Chairman Gary Collins, R-Nampa, said there are questions 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 them 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 till the first of next year, so this tax year is safe.” 

Impact of tax changes

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy has released a new analysis of the omnibus tax proposal that’s been debated in the back rooms of the Legislature this year. That proposal would raise the sales tax while eliminating it from groceries and dedicating increased funds to transportation. It would also move to a flat-rate income tax at 6.6 percent. The analysis concludes that the bottom 20 percent of Idaho taxpayers would see a $134 tax hike, on average, while the top 1 percent would get a tax cut of nearly $5,000.

“Idaho’s tax structure is already out of balance in that lower-earning families pay about 8.5 percent of their income in state and local taxes on average, while families at the very top pay only about 6.4 percent,” the report said. “The proposed tax shift would increase this discrepancy.”

Batt to GOP: Add the words

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt, delivering the keynote speech at the Canyon County GOP Lincoln Day banquet last week in Nampa, made waves with a strong call to action for Republicans on civil rights for gays. Batt recalled his illustrious career as a Republican politician in Idaho. “Now, we think it’s OK to kill a civil rights expansion on a party-line vote. It’s not OK and we’ll regret it,” he warned.

“Nobody has really explained to me why a gay person can’t order a hamburger or rent a room from somebody who serves everybody else,” Batt said. “Some opponents of ‘Add the Words’ say that their religion will not allow it. Write an exemption, as long as it’s not just an excuse. Others say it’s government intrusion. Would it be OK to deny women the right to vote because it’s government intrusion? Would it be OK to deny blacks a hamburger and a room because it’s government intrusion? I can see why some individuals would vote against ‘Add the Words.’ But to party-line kill it without explanation – COME ON!”

Boise reporter Betsy Z. Russell posts updates on the Eye on Boise blog at www.spokesman.com/blogs/boise.