The $2 billion bamboozle

You’re being bamboozled.
 
Republican Party leaders repeatedly say you should be afraid of “tax-and-spend Democrats.”  Instead, there are over two billion reasons you should be afraid of them.  Over the last five years the legislature has forced school districts across the state to float nearly $2.1 BILLION in local bonds and levies.  This includes many conservative, rural school districts across the state that are loathe to impose property tax increases on voters.
 
What the majority party doesn’t want you to know is the role they’ve played in raising your property taxes. The legislature is constitutionally bound to adequately fund the annual operations of all public schools. Local bonds and levies are supposed to be supplemental to that funding. Instead, these bonds and levies have become necessary to fund annual operational costsThe legislature is picking your pocket to pay for their failure to do their job. 
 
Legislative leaders like to argue that education is over 50% of the state budget and therefore they need to carefully manage the cost.  What they don’t tell you is how much money the legislature exempts from revenue collection each year just in the form of sales tax exemptions and exceptions. Many of them have been on the books for decades. They are rarely reviewed and never expire.
 
Note in the chart below that if only 18% of the $11.64 billion in exemptions can't be justified, that would have paid for every bond and levy requested statewide for the last five years (the actual percentage is actually less since some of the requested bonds and levies were repeated requests that failed in previous years). And this doesn’t include additional tax exemptions, such as tax incentives and special property tax breaks awarded to selected entities. This is how the legislature has been increasing your property taxes.

 Articles on bonds and levies for: 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, 2021

But the situation is even more insidious. If you throw a frog into a pot of boiling water, the frog will immediately jump out. But if you put a frog in lukewarm water and slowly increase the temperature, the frog will not perceive the danger and eventually be cooked to death. Voters are being lulled into the notion that annual school bonds and levies are the norm. They are not. Truly supplemental bonds and levies should occur about once every 5-7 years - not every year. When it comes to the legislature’s control of the education budget – you are the frog!
 
And if the same people who created and perpetuate this situation are continually re-elected, the next generation will be on the menu.

 

Rotunda Roundup

Idahoans had another terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad week in the legislature.  There’s no end to the continuous stream of dubious bills that fail to provide real improvement for the issues that profoundly affect your daily life. The assault on critical thinking and responsible representative government continues . . .
 
Hire people without teaching credentials to fill teaching vacancies (H221 – passed committee, sent to the House floor). I voted against this terrible bill that ignores the root cause of the teacher shortage problem in Idaho: gross underfunding of public education, including uncompetitive teacher salaries (even after recent increases in the career ladder – which were put on hold). If you believe in the free market and a job opening needs to be filled – you should pay a competitive salary to retain and attract qualified individuals to fill those openings. You don't lower your standards – that hurts our children.

Criminalize helping a neighbor drop off their absentee ballot (H223, originally H88 – passed the House, in the Senate).  This "Criminalize Good Samaritans" bill turns an act of kindness into a crime. It will convict you of a felony if you want to help your elderly or disabled neighbor by offering to deliver their legal, signed and sealed ballot to the county elections office in time to be counted. I voted against this bill, which is perhaps one of the cruelest, heartless and most un-American pieces of legislation ever to disgrace the Idaho legislature – or any legislature.

Provide property tax assistance for Certified Family Homes (H212 – failed on House Floor by two votes).  The legislature turned its back on some of its most vulnerable citizens by defeating this bill.  It would have provided modest property tax assistance for low income families caring for people with developmental and physical disabilities in their homes, making it easier for Certified Family Homes (CFH) that serve adults with disabilities to qualify for this assistance. I voted for this bill, which would have helped people across the political spectrum.  Illness and misfortune knows no partisanship – except in the Idaho Legislature, which continues to reveal its survival-of-the-fittest attitude toward the people it serves.

Shift dollars from education to help subsidize transportation (H112 – passed the House, in the Senate). This innocent-looking bill exempts about $12 million from sales tax collection to subsidize certain road construction materials. That results in $12 million less available to be used for education and other vital services. Transportation infrastructure is in sore need of funding to deal with the nearly half-billion dollars in just basic road and bridge maintenance across the state. The solution should not be to take money from the source that funds education.  I voted against this bill, which is yet another in a long list of bills and laws that shift money from one budget line item to another, instead of dealing with the underlying problem of outdated fiscal policies that are starving all state government functions.

Omnibus appropriations (H207 – passed the House, in the Senate). I normally don’t include appropriations bills in my newsletters – they are routine and necessary to sustain the daily functioning of government – and we vote on them only after a joint House/Senate committee has approved them. It is even rarer for me to cast a vote in protest – but that’s why I voted “no” vote for this bill. It essentially approves Governor Little’s 5% across-the-board cut to all state budgets last year.  I could not agree with that action, which cost teachers a salary increase and short-changed other state departments while the state was sitting on a $500+million rainy-day fund, a record budget surplus and over $200 million sitting idle in an internet sales tax collection account.  I believe in being fiscally prudent, but this was a gross over-reaction that unnecessarily hurt many Idahoans, especially state employees.

Pay private attorneys with taxpayer dollars to seek opinions different from the Attorney General (H101 – passed the House, in the Senate). This bill is the poster child for arrogance and petulance. The State Attorney General (AG) is a duly-elected constitutional officer charged with conducting legal matters of state. This includes issuing opinions on proposed legislation. Majority party leadership gets annoyed when the AG renders an opinion they don’t like.  This bill would allow party leaders to spend your tax dollars to shop around for a private attorney who will tell them what they want to hear. But it’s worse than that. The AG’s office costs about $60-80/hour. Private law firms charge upward to $400 or more per hour. But why should these party leaders care? It’s your money they’re spending, not theirs.  I voted against this bill.

Compensate prisoners for wrongful conviction (S1027 – passed the House and Senate, to the Governor). This bill is one of the very few bright spots on the legislative calendar thus far. It compensates people who were wrongly convicted and subsequently released from prison. This bill passed both houses of the legislature last year but was vetoed by the Governor. After some minor adjustments, this version is expected to be signed into law.  I joined every Republican and Democrat in the House who unanimously voted for this bill, which is an example of social justice at its best.

 

Still in the hopper

H145. This dangerous bill eliminate any required ratio of journeyman to apprentice electricians on a job site.  It creates a clear and present threat to public safety.

S1110. This is a near-repeat of the bill Governor Little vetoed in 2019 that would effectively nullify every Idahoan’s constitutional right to place a citizen-driven initiative on the ballot – like the one that enacted Medicaid expansion.

H108. This is the Sgt. Kitzhaber Medical Cannabis Act, named after one of my District 15 constituents.  This bill legalizes secure and controlled access to doctor-prescribed medical cannabis in small, individual medication-only doses. It is similar to how you can walk out of a drug store today with a bottle of morphine (which is processed heroin).

H126. This bill legalizes the production of industrial hemp in Idaho.

S1044. This bill requires all members of an urban renewal agency to be elected by the public.  Currently some members are elected and others are appointed across the different agencies in Idaho.

H195. This bill prohibits targeted residential picketing (demonstrating in front of person’s residence or dwelling with the intent to harass, harm, annoy or alarm another person).

 

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ABOUT STEVE BERCH

Steve represents District 15, House Seat 15A. He is a member of the Education, Business, Local Government committees, and JLOC. How to contact Steve:

  • Contribute: CLICK HERE
  • Website: www.berch4idaho.com
  • Phone (cell): 208-890-9339
  • Phone (Capitol): 208-332-1039
  • Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 

Best websites for following the legislature

 

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On The Air

2021

  • February 10 - KTVB-TV interview on H88 (absentee ballot voter suppression). Click Here.
  • January 22 - KBOI interview (Kasper and Chris). 

2020

  • March 19 - BYU-Idaho interview. Click Here.
  • March 6 - KBOI interview.  Click Here.
  • February 27 - BYU-Idaho radio interview on education and sales tax exemptions. Click here.
  • February 13 - Capital Update interview on the House abolishing education standards.  Click here.
  • January 10 - KBOI interview (with Rep. Megan Blanksma).  Click here.
 

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