Reclaim Idaho pulls education funding initiative from ballot

Reclaim Idaho
Posted at 5:15 PM, Sep 07, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-07 19:15:10-04

Organizers of an education funding initiative have asked to have the measure pulled from the November ballot after the Idaho Legislature last week passed a massive tax cut and education spending bill that made the initiative moot.

Reclaim Idaho’s initiative, dubbed the Quality Education Act, would have generated an estimated $323 million each year for K-12 education by increasing income taxes for corporations and the state’s highest-earning residents. That would have amounted to about a 14% increase over the state’s normal education funding.

But the new legislation signed into law on Sept. 1 created a flat income tax bracket for the entire state and increased public education funding by $410 million a year. The flat tax and education funding takes effect on Jan. 3 — effectively overriding the Quality Education Act, which would take effect on Jan. 1 if approved by voters in November.

Reclaim Idaho volunteers gathered signatures across the state for more than a year, ultimately submitting more than 100,000 petition signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office in July, qualifying for the ballot.

Deborah Ferguson, a Boise attorney representing Reclaim Idaho, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Lawerence Denney on Tuesday saying that the initiative should be withdrawn from the ballot “in light of these extraordinary events.”

Deputy Secretary of State Jason Hancock replied the same day, agreeing to the request and saying the measure would not appear on the general election ballot. But he warned that it could cause some confusion for voters, since the state has already begun printing the roughly 800,000 Voter’s Pamphlets that are mailed to every household in Idaho. Hancock said he didn’t know if an initiative has ever been withdrawn so late in the process.

“A withdrawal of Proposition One renders much of the content of this Voters’ Pamphlet irrelevant, and indeed, confusing to voters,” Hancock wrote. “As such, please be prepared to address this confusion in press and in public.”

Reclaim Idaho founder Luke Mayville called the new legislation a victory for the organization in a statement last week, saying it was “a big step forward for Idaho.”

In a statement released Wednesday, Mayville said the campaign "(forced) the legislature to do something good."

“There are two ways to win an initiative campaign. The traditional way is to go all the way to the ballot box and win a majority of the vote. But it's also possible to win by forcing the legislature to do something good that they would never have otherwise done. Our grassroots campaign forced the legislature to increase public school funding by $410 million — a bigger investment than anything we've seen in decades.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, called the special session in August so lawmakers could direct part of the state’s $2 billion budget surplus to bolster public school funding and pass tax cuts intended help residents cope with inflation.

The proposal overwhelmingly passed both houses and Little signed the bill on Sept. 1. In addition to increasing education spending by $410 million a year, funded by sales taxes, the legislation cuts $150 million in income and corporate taxes by creating a 5.8% flat tax. It also included $500 million in one-time income tax rebates.

Republicans have long pushed for a flat tax, and Democrats have fought for increased education funding. The combination made the proposal hard to oppose for many lawmakers.

Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act, meanwhile, would have increased the corporate income tax rate from 6% to 8% and placed some of the highest-earning individuals in the state in a new 10.925% tax bracket.

The changes would have generated an estimated $323 million each year to go toward things like teacher and support staff salaries, reducing class sizes, hiring school counselors, providing classroom supplies and for special education services and programs like art, music, career-technical education and full-day kindergarten.

Now that it has been withdrawn, voters may still read about the initiative in Voter Education materials but will not see it on the ballot when they vote in the Nov. 8 general election.