Wednesday, November 1, 2006

Proposition 1

Express Staff Writer

The bad news: Proposition 1 is another complicated ballot initiative with uncertain ramifications. The good news: It might not matter much which way you vote because the measure probably won't have any legal effect even if it passes.

Proposition 1 states that Idaho's sales tax shall be raised from 5 percent to 6 percent, and all the added revenue generated shall be spent on public schools. But Gov. Jim Risch and the Legislature pre-empted that by holding a special session in August to eliminate property-tax funding of schools' operations budgets and to enact a 1 percent increase in the sales tax to replace that.

Proposition 1 also states that if the Legislature raises the sales tax before the effective date of the ballot measure, then it shall develop "an alternative state-based revenue stream" to provide added school funding that is at least equal to what would have been generated by the sales tax increase.

The problem with that, the Idaho Attorney General's Office stated in its review of the proposed initiative, is that an initiative can't tell the Legislature what to do.

"The initiative process in Idaho is limited to proposing and adopting changes in statutory law," Deputy Attorney General Theodore Spangler said. "Initiative legislation is on equal footing with the legislation enacted by the Legislature. Like any other statute, a statute enacted by initiative may be repealed or amended by the Legislature."

In other words, the Legislature can spend whatever it wants on school funding each year, Proposition 1 or no Proposition 1.

But the Blaine County School District is urging local residents to vote for the measure anyway.

"If the public comes out with a strong opposition, then it sends a message to the Legislature that we think what they're doing is pretty good," district business manager Mike Chatterton said. "But if they support it, it sends a message that maybe we value education more than they think we do."

When the Legislature axed property-tax funding for schools, it affected Blaine County more than other districts. Due to its high property values, Blaine County had funded an unusually high percentage of its budget through property taxes.

"We're like every other school district in the state of Idaho now, in that we're at the whim of the Legislature," Chatterton said.

He said that if Proposition 1 passes and the Legislature follows its directives, the district would see a 15 percent to 20 percent increase in the $12 million it now gets annually from the state.

Chatterton said the district is in better financial shape than most school districts in the state, and has no pressing financial problems. However, he said administrators would like to spend more on technology education and have enough to maintain the low student-teacher ratio the district now enjoys.

The proposition states that local school districts can decide on which of nine areas they want to spend the money raised through it. Those include classroom materials, teachers' salaries, technology, additional academic programs and maintenance.

Supporters of the measure say one of the motives behind it is that Idaho teachers have been quitting in order to work in other states that pay higher salaries. Opponents claim that although the measure would allow local districts to spend the money where they please, "it is all about the (teachers') union using its political muscle for its own interests."

Supporters say that Idaho ranks 45th in the nation in spending on education. Opponents point out that over the past decade, Idaho has risen from 41st to 29th in teachers' salaries.

Voters on Nov. 7 will also be asked in an advisory vote whether they want to keep the property tax relief and the sales tax increase passed in August. The Blaine County School District's board of trustees has urged a "no" vote on the question.

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