The West Ada School district (Meridian, Star, Eagle) is asking voters to approve another operational levy on November 3.
Why are so many (93 of 115) school districts going to the voters every year or every other year with to collect this local property tax?
Why has the total revenue from such levies grown to over $180 million a year?
Whenever a local taxing agency wants voters to approve a new or a continuing tax, a solution should be offered. Here’s my solution to ending school district operational levies.
The solution lies with the Idaho legislature. Sure, the legislature can claim that k-12 Education takes nearly 48% of the state’s General Fund budget pie, followed by Health and Human Services with 23%. (When the ALL FUNDS BUDGET PIE—including federal funds—is divided HHS takes 38% and Education gets 36%.)
But why isn’t 48% of the General Fund Pie providing enough for most school districts?
Once again, the solution lies with the Idaho legislature. Here’s why:
- The Idaho Constitution, Article 9, Section 1, is very straightforward—
LEGISLATURE TO ESTABLISH SYSTEM OF FREE SCHOOLS. The stability of a republican form of government depending mainly upon the intelligence of the people, it shall be the duty of the legislature of Idaho, to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools [emphasis added].
- The word “duty” appears only once in the Constitution. And it regards public schools. The word “free” means… well, what do you think?
- When the legislature tries to fulfill its duty to provide a free public school system, it largely depends on two sources – 47% from the personal income tax and 41% from the sales tax – the former being a progressive tax and the latter a regressive tax.
- The problem is with the sales tax. When the sales tax was instituted in 1965 at 3%, the total number of exemptions was small. Over the years, it has grown to nearly 100 exemptions, thanks to the lobbying efforts of groups like mobile homes, auto sales, ski lift operators, and just about any service industry. The income loss to the state’s General Fund is estimated to be over $700 million.
- If the Legislature met its Constitutional “Duty” and rolled back those exemptions, the math is simple – the state could easily recover $200 million or more and, thereby, eliminate the need for school districts to go begging for operational levies.
Why is the West Ada School District operational levy necessary? Because it “back fills” the gap created by the Legislature and balances the district budget. If your district is proposing an operational levy this year, be it on the November or the March ballot, the reason is the same – the district must “back fill” a funding gap in order to maintain programs.
The $14 million revenue to West Ada School District each year for the next two years is a CONTINUATION tax levy that funds over 30 teaching positions, 9 school days, and other instructional support. Because of the economic vigor of the Meridian and Eagle area, the tax rate will not increase.
Moreover, the West Ada School School Board has pledged to reduce the dollar value if the Legislature increase public education funding that flows to the district.
While these operational levies are statutorily called “Supplemental Levies”, they do not supplement at all. They are ESSENTIAL levies that fund basic educational programs and teaching positions.