On behalf of the Education Foundation of the Blaine County School District, we applaud the Idaho Mountain Express' recent opinion advising voters to vote "no" on the advisory vote related to the recent Property Tax Relief Act of 2006.
In late August 2006, Governor Jim Risch called a special legislative session to vote on property tax reform. The Property Tax Relief Act of 2006 was passed and has dramatically changed the way in which public schools in Idaho are funded. Voting "no" on the non-binding ballot initiative will send a clear message to Gov. Risch and Idaho legislators that the Property Tax Relief Act of 2006 is detrimental to public education for the following reasons:
Prior to the passage of the Property Tax Relief Act of 2006, public schools received their state funding from income taxes, sales taxes and property taxes in approximately equal proportions. The Property Tax Relief Act of 2006 altered this formula and replaced the portion of funds coming from property tax (a property tax reduction) with funds earmarked from sales tax (a sales tax increase).
Education funding can suffer for three major reasons when the property tax portion of the equation is reduced or eliminated.
First, property values do not fluctuate as much as revenues from sales. Historically, state sales tax receipts have been less stable than property taxes. Additionally, there seems to be no turning back once the decision is made. No politician wants to be in a position having to raise or reinstitute a property tax.
Other states serve as clear examples. Oregon, California, Vermont and Michigan have opted to reduce property taxes at the expense of education funding. Education funding in each of these cases has suffered.
Second, property taxes were specifically earmarked for education funding. Sales taxes combine with income taxes in a "pool" of monies, called the state's General Fund. Competing for dollars within this pool of monies is a couple of other big-ticket items, which the state is obligated to support.
Prison expenditures and Medicaid expenses are also paid out of the General Fund and have increased over 10 percent annually. Sales and income tax revenues have grown on average about 5 percent annually. The obvious problem with this situation is one of the major reasons that the Idaho College President's Association, the Public School's Superintendent's Organization, and the Idaho Education Association all opposed the Property Tax Relief Act of 2006.
Third, this change not only affects the source of the funding, but could affect the administration of the funding as well. The state may now have more say on matters that have been traditionally decided by local school boards.
As Tom Brokaw said, "Public education is the foundation of democracy." Does it make sense to undermine the foundation of democracy by cutting funding when it is most critically needed?
Please vote "no" on the Property Tax Relief Act of 2006 and send a clear message to the state of Idaho that you care about public education.
Jeff Neel and Laura Morawitz are the co-chairs of the Education Foundation of the Blaine County School District.