Legislation would limit re-running failed Idaho bond votes

Posted at 2:58 PM, Jan 27, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-27 16:58:51-05

BOISE, Idaho — Bond elections that fail won’t be allowed before voters again for a minimum of eleven months, under proposed legislation approved Monday by a House committee.

The House State Affairs Committee vote to send to the full House the measure by Republican Rep. Heather Scott. All twelve Republicans backed the legislation; the three Democrats opposed it.

Backers say taxing districts should only get one shot a year at asking voters to approve bonds. They contend that repeatedly bringing back bond votes wears down voters until they finally approve. They contend the legislation is needed to strengthen local control.

“This is happening all across the state,” Scott told the committee. “(There are) different types of taxing districts, and this bill just targets these aggressive ones that are ignoring the people.”

Opponents say taxing districts typically communicate with voters to find out why a bond failed -- and make changes before trying again. They contend that taxing districts can fine-tune bond votes to more accurately align with what voters want. They contend that limiting bond votes to once a year takes away local control, and will cost districts extra money because construction costs will have risen once voters do pass a bond.

In Idaho, bonds must be approved by a two-thirds super-majority of voters.

The legislation has particular significance for school districts that can run bond elections four times a year. Lawmakers in 2006 eliminated using property taxes to fund public schools while raising the sales tax from 5 percent to 6 percent to make up for the lost money. However, school districts in general say they’ve never seen that bump in sales tax make up for the lost money.

As a result, a majority of school districts have turned to voters to ask them to approve bonds or levies.

Karen Echeverria, Executive Director of the Idaho School Boards Association, said money from the bonds is mostly used to build schools to meet a growing student population or to repair schools.

She said some buildings “are in dire need of repair and, to be honest, I wouldn’t want my grandchildren to be in some of the school buildings that we have.”

Bonds are a financial device taxing districts can use to get money to pay for such projects as building new schools, jails and other large projects. But the bonds must be paid back with interest, and that money typically comes by increasing property taxes.

Many residents have been complaining about increased property taxes because of soaring property values as the state grows, with some saying they can’t afford to remain in their homes.

(by Keith Ridler)