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Idaho Governor Brad Little signs into law tax rebate, school funding bill

Idaho statehouse
Courtesy of the state of Idaho
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The measure approved during a one-day special session highlighted disagreements about school spending levels.

Idaho Governor Brad Little has signed into law a one-time income tax rebate, on the same afternoon the state Senate and House approved it during a one-day special session.

The measure will authorize checks of at least $300 to individual tax filers and $600 for joint filers.

One of the best parts, says the bill’s sponsor, Republican Representative Steven Harris, is that it reduces the state income tax rate from 6% to 5.8% and ensures that everyone, at all income levels, will pay that.

“In two years we’ve gone from seven brackets to five brackets to four brackets. This year, one bracket, flat tax in Idaho. Flat tax in Idaho. That’s amazing. That’s wonderful. Every dollar you earn doesn’t get punished as you move up that income rate,” he said.

The new law also includes a transfer of more than $400 million from sales taxes. About 80% of it goes to public schools, the rest to a fund to pay for programs that try to convince people to go into areas suffering from a shortage of labor.

The school spending measure was the subject of much sharp debate on Thursday. It authorizes an annual transfer of $330 million dollars in sales tax revenue to the state K-12 school budget and $80 million into a fund set up for career training programs.

The measure drew wide praise from many education people, though it also drew comments from Boise Democrat Lauren Necochea, who referred to the upcoming vote in November on a school funding initiative that calls for similar increases in education spending.

“This bill is clearly a response to and an end run around the education initiative," she said. "I’ve never seen a tax bill with an effective date of January 3. I don’t think any of you have either. That is because this plan is carefully crafted to, on autopilot, undo the Quality Education Act, if it passes.”

Proponents of that act argue the state of Idaho is at the bottom of the nation in per-student education spending.

Some who voted against the bill say the legislature has already authorized huge funding increases for education in recent years. Rep. Gayann DeMordaunt (R-Eagle) argued that money is already paying dividends, with Idaho students scoring in the middle of the pack nationally, or better, on national tests.

“Our fourth graders are reading 12th in the nation. How about 18, the number 18, that’s our eighth graders’ reading scores, 20th overall in terms of achievement, 16th overall in the improvement of student achievement. Now why isn’t that making the headlines? Why isn’t that what we’re focusing on?" she said.

"We are allowing a narrative and we’re furthering that narrative today that we’re 49th or 50th and we have to get out of that place or nothing’s happening in education," she said.

Rep. Ben Adams (R-Nampa) said now that schools are receiving higher levels of funding that the onus is now on them to get students to perform better.