Wednesday, March 9, 2011


In 2006, when real estate values were peaking, Gov. Jim Risch and the Legislature sold the public snake oil. They called it the Idaho Property Tax Relief Act.

The act promised lower property taxes and adequate schools if taxpayers would agree to temporarily increase the sales tax by 1 percent and to shift the cost of maintenance and operations to the state.

Because they were already paying their own way and receiving little state funding, four school districts—Blaine County, McCall-Donnelly, Swan Valley and Avery—were exempted from putting school levies up for a vote every two years.

Lured by the sweet flimflam of lower taxes, voters went along in a statewide advisory vote. They were suckered.

The snake oil's sickening side effects are today's sinking state sales tax revenues and the sight of the Legislature meat-axing school budgets.

Blaine County schools' budgets don't need meat-axing, but Reps. Ken Roberts of Donnelly and Dennis Lake of Blackfoot want to threaten them with it anyway by removing the four-district exemption.

It's only "fair," the Republicans say. They want to "fairly" destabilize 60 percent, or $29.5 million, of the local budget. They want to "fairly" wreck the district's ability to recruit good teachers with long-term contracts and to provide excellent programs that are the exception to Idaho's lowest-common-denominator rule.

They've turned the meaning of "fair" on its head. A truly fair law would stabilize all school budgets and remove them from the semiannual threat of the meat-axe.

Roberts, the author of this scholastic abuse, will face Blaine County school patrons in a public meeting tonight at 6 p.m. at the Community Campus in Hailey.

Surely, he will get a fair hearing.

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