Friday, October 13, 2006

School board speaks against tax reform

Express Staff Writer

ALEX SUNDALI. Courtesy Photo.

The Blaine County School District board of trustees spoke this week against an advisory ballot question regarding the state's approved plan to reduce property tax and increase the state sales tax.

The question will be put before voters on November ballots. The advisory ballot question is, as its name indicates, simply advisory in nature. The question asks whether the state should keep the Property Tax Relief Act, which was signed by Gov. Jim Risch in August during a special legislative session.

The law raised Idaho's sales tax by 1 percent in October in order to cut $260 million in property taxes. The measure also significantly revised school funding.

"What Gov. Risch did in one day was to undo stable public school funding," said Alex Sundali, the board's president.

The Blaine County board joins the Idaho School Boards Association and others, such as the Idaho Education Association, as educational bodies encouraging their constituents to vote "no" on the ballot to send a signal of discontent with the legislation. Members of the Blaine County board stated on Tuesday, Oct. 20, at the regular meeting that they would work to educate parent-teacher groups and the community on the issue.

The board expressed concerns over the ballot question, as the property tax reform directly affects educational funding across the state. Property taxes have been a major source of revenue for the state's school districts, including Blaine County.

The new law removes the maintenance and operation levy for school funding. The measure replaces funding currently supplied by property taxes with state-collected sales tax and money from the state's general fund. These taxes are more sensitive to fluctuations in the economy.

"Basically, it is a tax shift, but it's a tax shift to unstable revenue," Sundali said. "Sales tax is absolutely dependent on the economy."

A demand for property tax reform came from many Idaho property owners who started to witness a surge in assessed values across the state.

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