BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Under legislation approved by a House committee Tuesday, school districts would no longer use March and August elections to ask voters to approve bonds and levies.
Republican Rep. Wendy Horman said March and August elections draw fewer voters than May and November elections. She said that allows a small number of people to make important decisions. By limiting school bond and levy votes to the November general election and May primary dates, she said, voters would be more engaged.
“By focusing on those May and November dates, I believe more voters will participate and be more informed,” she told lawmakers.
The House State Affairs Committee approved the bill 11-3, with all Democrats opposed.
Karen Echeverria, executive director of the Idaho School Boards Association, said the opposite was likely with many more issues for voters to deal with in November and May elections.
“We are worried about voter fatigue,” she said. “Our electorate is not as well informed because they are more concerned about other issues on the ballot.”
Several school officials also spoke against the measure, while several people speaking for themselves as taxpayers voiced opposition.
School districts ask voters to approve bonds to build schools and levies for ongoing expenses, typically resulting in property tax increases. Levies require a simple majority to pass, while bonds require two-thirds of voters to approve.
Lawmakers in 2006 eliminated using property taxes to fund public school operations while raising the sales tax from 5% to 6% 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 levies and bonds.
Meanwhile, many residents have been complaining about increased property taxes due to soaring property values. Rising property taxes have turned into one of the primary topics of this year’s legislative session, with both Republicans and Democrats calling it a crisis.
Democratic Rep. John Gannon said the fundamental problem is that the state government doesn’t adequately fund education, leading to the need for school bonds and levies.
Gannon also noted that the bill also removes the March and August dates that voters can use to recall elected officials.