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Bond bill legislation returns, aims to limit taxing districts

Middleton, Wilder school district bonds fail, Parma's succeeds
Posted at 2:20 PM, Feb 01, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-02 20:40:05-05

BOISE, Idaho — Taxing districts’ ability to fund major capital projects is once again being challenged by a new piece of legislation introduced Tuesday morning.

A reboot of House Bill 347 from the 2020 session and House Bill 639 from 2018 would prohibit local government units from putting failed bond measures on more than one ballot per year. The former legislation, HB 347, was unable to pass in the Senate State Affairs Committee.

Bond measures are ballot initiatives proposed by governments that collect property taxes like cities, counties and school districts as part of their annual budgets. When successfully approved by voters, bond measures allow taxing districts to spend above their available budget and go into debt. The voters then repay the debt through a temporary increase in property taxes. Bonds require a two-thirds majority vote to pass.

All three pieces of legislation – including the one introduced on Tuesday — were proposed by Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard. Scott believes it would “target aggressive taxing districts.”

“When a bond is run in a community, if that bond fails and the voters say no, there needs to be a period of time before they can rerun a bond of a similar type,” Scott said.

According to Scott’s bill, that period would be 11-months – effectively pushing taxing districts to wait a year to rerun a bond initiative.

Cities, counties and school districts frequently float a bond to fund new construction, renovations, land purchased and equipment.

In 2021, Boise successfully passed a bond to fund infrastructure improvements for the city’s sewer district.

However, it is not uncommon for bonds to fail due to a lack of voter support.

Since 2006, Canyon County has attempted to pass four bonds that would support the construction costs of a new jail. The most recent attempt in 2019 received a 34% approval rating from voters – more than 30% less than the amount it needed to pass.

Related: #ELECTIONDAY: Canyon County votes against new jail bond

In 2018, the Wilder, Parma and Middleton school districts had bond measure fail. All three were reintroduced later that summer in August, only Parma’s passed. Middleton later attempted to pass the bond a third time by dividing it into three parts on the November ballot. All three failed.

Related: Middleton, Wilder school district bonds fail, Parma's succeeds

According to a presentation by the Idaho Office of Performance Evaluations on Monday, only 49 of the 120 bonds school districts ran in the last decade were approved by voters.

The House State Affairs Committee will hold a full public hearing on Scott’s legislation in the coming days.