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Is Idaho bill to cut taxes, fund education constitutional? Attorney general’s office weighs in

By Ryan Suppe Idaho Statesman

Debate among lawmakers over an Idaho bill that would cut income taxes, provide rebates and pour more money to education brought one question to light: whether it violated the Idaho Constitution.

Some Republican legislators, who have convened in Boise for a special session, asked whether the bill would violate the Idaho Constitution’s one-subject rule, a prohibition on multi-subject bills.

“You can’t bring one important issue to a bill and then put a whole bunch of pork in it to get it passed,” said Rep. Charlie Shepherd, R-Pollock, who supported the bill but brought up the concern. “It might come back to bite us. This is a dangerous road to go down.”

But an analysis from the Idaho attorney general’s office said the bill is legally sound.

Idaho Chief Deputy Attorney General Nicole McKay weighed in on the issue in an Aug. 25 legal opinion requested by Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, and obtained by the Idaho Statesman.

While subjects of legislation must have a “unity of purpose,” according to a previous Idaho court ruling, the special session bill “does not appear to be vulnerable” to a constitutional challenge, McKay wrote in the opinion.

Although the bill “mixes income tax provisions with sales tax distribution provisions, all provisions pertain directly to, and have a necessary connection with, the core subject of taxation,” McKay wrote. “Given Idaho case law, a challenge” to the bill “for violation of the one-subject rule is unlikely to prevail.”

AG: Little’s bill would supersede education initiative

The office of the state’s top attorney also weighed in on the conflict between the bill and Proposition 1, the ballot initiative to raise taxes on wealthy Idahoans and corporations to better fund education.

Spearheaded by citizen advocacy group Reclaim Idaho, Proposition 1 — also known as the Quality Education Act — would raise more than $320 million annually by creating a new income tax bracket for Idaho taxpayers who earn $250,000 or more in taxable income, and by increasing corporate income taxes from 6% to 8%.

Gov. Brad Little’s proposal would instead direct $410 million in state sales tax revenue annually to education. Most of the money would go to Idaho’s public school income fund, while the remaining $80 million would be directed to workforce development programs.

If approved by the Legislature, Little’s bill would establish a flat tax on Jan. 3, two days after new tax standards set by the ballot initiative would take effect, according to the same analysis by the attorney general’s office.

McKay said the bill would “override the statutory changes made effective by” the proposition.

The House Revenue and Taxation committee unanimously forwarded the bill, with the committee’s approval, to the full House Thursday.