Legislators work from the House chamber at the Idaho Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022. (Otto Kitsinger for Idaho Capital Sun)
Gov. Brad Little has officially called for a special session of the Idaho Legislature beginning on Sept. 1 to consider a bill aimed at cutting taxes and increasing education funding.
“Inflation is at a 40-year high, putting gas, groceries and other necessities out of reach for many Idahoans,” Little said a proclamation issued Tuesday authorizing the special session. “Idaho taxpayers and the education system are especially imperiled by the consequences of historic inflation.”
Little made the announcement at 11 a.m. Tuesday at a press conference at a Boise convenience store with House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; Senate Pro Tem Chuck Winder, R-Boise; Sen. Jim Rice, R-Caldwell; and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, also in attendance.
A special session — officially called an extraordinary session — means that the Idaho House of Representatives and Idaho Senate will convene at the Idaho State Capitol in Boise. The Idaho Legislature has already adjourned for the year on March 31, and the 2023 legislative session is not scheduled to begin until Jan. 9.
Idaho legislators to consider tax cut, education investment bill
During the special session, legislators will consider a bill that Little’s advisers said would provide the largest tax cut and the largest investment in education funding in state history. The 14-page draft bill, which Little’s office released Tuesday, would provide $500 million in one-time tax rebates, lower the income tax rate from 6% to 5.8%, establish a flat tax rate for all income tax filers and exempt the first $2,500 of income. Under the bill, individuals would receive a one-time, minimum rebate of $300 while joint filers would receive a minimum of $600. The state would use some of its record-breaking state budget surplus, which Little said could reach $2 billion, to pay for the rebates.2022 Idaho special session draft bill RS29902
The bill would also provide $330 million in ongoing, annual funding for K-12 public schools and $80 million for in-demand career training, with that portion of the money available for career-technical education, community colleges or higher education.
The bill would use the sales tax to pay for the increase in education funding each year, with the amounts increasing by 3% each year.
Little’s advisers said the bill already has bipartisan support, with 60 of the 105 legislators — including a majority in the Idaho House and Idaho Senate — signed on as cosponsors. Little and his team worked with legislators and education groups over the past two weeks to build support for the proposal, Little’s aides told reporters Tuesday morning.
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Legislative special sessions are rare, but this one doesn’t come as a shock
Although special sessions are fairly rare in Idaho, this one isn’t a surprise.
Last week, Bedke issued a written statement to the Idaho Capital Sun calling for “immediate” action.
“Idaho has another record surplus due to strong conservative leadership,” Bedke said at the time. “Biden’s inflation, however, is hurting everyday Idahoans. I am working with Gov. Little and my fellow members of the Legislature on ways to provide immediate tax relief for Idaho families and small businesses while also strengthening investments for future generations.”
Under the Idaho Constitution, only Idaho’s governor may call a special session of the Idaho Legislature. This will be the fourth special session Idaho governors have called since 2000. Special sessions occurred in 2000, 2006, 2015 and, most recently in 2020.
The timing and political implications of this year’s special session could be interesting.
All Idaho legislators are coming to the end of their two-year terms, but they will be back in Boise for the special session. In 11 weeks, all 105 seats in the Idaho Legislature will be up for election during the Nov. 8 general election.
During the May primary election, 19 incumbent Republican legislators lost their reelection bids. More than 20 other legislators either aren’t running for re-election or are running for a different office this year. That means that 40 or more legislators who won’t be back in their same legislative chamber next year will be back for the special session next week.
During the Nov. 8 general election, Idaho voters will also decide whether the Idaho Legislature will be allowed to call itself back into session without the governor’s approval. Senate Joint Resolution 2, or SJR 2 for short, would allow the Idaho Legislature to call itself back into session if a majority of Idahoans vote for it on Nov. 8.
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Bill from special session would repeal, replace Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act
Passage of the bill during the special session would also result in effectively repealing and replacing the Quality Education Act ballot initiative that will go before Idaho voters during the Nov. 8 general election, Little’s aides said. If a majority of voters approve the Quality Education Act, that initiative would be set to take effect Jan. 1. But the bill up for consideration during the Sept. 1 special session includes language that would make it go in effect two days later on Jan. 3. That means it would wipe out any changes from the Quality Education Act.
Volunteers and organizers with the group Reclaim Idaho promoted and gathered signatures to qualify the Quality Education Act for the general election. Supporters say passage of the Quality Education Act would raise about $323 million per year for a new fund for education by raising the corporate income tax from 6% to 8% and by creating a new top tax bracket at 10.925% for individuals making more than $250,000 per year and families making more than $500,000 per year. The Quality Education Act would not change property taxes or the sales tax.
On Tuesday, Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville told the Sun volunteers will continue to promote the Quality Education Act. He said he can’t be certain that a majority of legislators will vote to pass Little’s proposal. He also said he has unanswered questions about whether Little’s education proposal would repeal the Quality Education Act if they both were to pass.
Mayville said the more than 70,000 Idahoans who signed the Quality Education Act petition and the volunteers gathered signatures deserve credit for pushing the state to act on education funding.
”In the big picture, we see the $410 million education investment as a victory for the thousands of petitioners and petition signers who worked to build support for large scale education investments,” Mayville said.
Ward-Engelking also said Reclaim Idaho volunteers and organizers deserve credit for pushing the state to take up the education funding increase.
“I cited Reclaim Idaho as being part of the reason this is happening,” Ward-Engelking said. “They got this message out to the people and they got the support of Idahoans to get it on the ballot.”
Mayville also said that Little’s proposal and the Quality Education Act take different taxation approaches to increasing funding for education. Little’s plan relies on sales tax dollars, while the Quality Education Act would increase taxes on corporations and individual Idahoans making more than $250,000 and families making more than $500,000 to pay for it.
Little’s aides said the new bill for the special session allows the state to raise even more funding for education while cutting taxes, not increasing them.
Meanwhile, multiple Republicans in the Legislature have come out in opposition to the Quality Education Act, with House Education Committee Chairman Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls, calling it “a huge tax increase.” However, Reclaim Idaho volunteers say the Quality Education Act is necessary because they say the Idaho Legislature has funded education at the lowest levels in the country.
The proposal from the Sept. 1 special session bill will also go before voters via a nonbinding “advisory vote” on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. The advisory vote question will ask voters whether they approve or disapprove of using the record surplus to pay for tax rebates and increasing education funding.
Little’s aides said the advisory vote would allow Idahoans to state their preference for using the surplus to pay for tax cuts and increased education funding, but the vote would be nonbinding and is not required to pass.
Idaho Democrats say increase in education funding is necessary
Two prominent Idaho Democratic legislators said they are supporting the proposal because of the education funding increase, which they say they have pushed for years. In interviews Tuesday, House Minority Leader Ilana Rubel and Ward-Engelking, both D-Boise, said they would work to ensure that if legislators approve Little’s proposal during the special session that that money will be protected as additional, ongoing money above and beyond the base education budget that the Legislature sets.
Rubel and Ward-Engelking also said they have assurances from Little that if he is re-elected Nov. 8, he would not allow the Legislature to undue or reduce funding increases during the upcoming 2023 session.
“The reality is, my Democratic colleagues and I have pushed for increased education funding for years, and this is a way to get it done right now,” Ward-Engelking said.
Education groups come out in support of special session funding proposal
Shortly after Little made his announcement Tuesday, two education groups issued statements supporting Little’s proposal to increase education funding.
In a written statement, the Idaho Education Association, a statewide teachers’ union, came out in support of the proposal. Idaho Education Association President Layne McInelly called the proposal “the Legislature’s first serious step in generations toward meeting its obligation ‘to establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools,’ as spelled out in the Idaho Constitution.”
Officials with the Idaho School Boards Association, which represents 800 school board members in all 115 school districts and 67 charter schools, also issued a statement Tuesday saying “this investment – if done strategically – has the ability to meet the unique needs of every district, school and community in Idaho.”
“Investing in our public schools is investing in our kids and communities alike,” Idaho School Boards Association President Jason Knopp said in the written statement. “This proposal shows that we can provide relief to families while still ensuring that we’re meeting the operational needs of our schools so that students in Idaho can thrive.”
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