Trust in government is at an all-time low. Idaho is no exception. That’s why Caldwell Sen. Jim Rice’s proposal to increase the state sales tax from the existing 6 percent to 7 percent to fund schools will have a hard time gaining traction.
Rice wants to increase the sales tax and eliminate supplemental property tax levies for school maintenance and operations that have left local districts on uneven financial ground. This could inadvertently damage some districts.
When Idaho voters approved the state’s first sales tax of 3 percent in 1966, the state claimed that the revenue would go entirely to education.
It did, for a while, and then it didn’t.
Then, lawmakers used taxpayers’ emerging comfort with the sales tax to increase it in the 1980s and expand areas in which it could be spent. That eroded trust. The tax is now 6 percent.
A 2013 report by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy showed declines in state spending for public school management and operations relative to other state spending. It showed increases in reliance on local supplemental property tax levies.
Since that time, reliance has only increased in some districts, including Blaine County’s. Skinnier pocketbooks in others have left school facilities in disrepair and teacher recruitment wanting.
A population influx has driven up the state’s housing costs and property taxes that support schools to a level that some state legislators say is intolerable.
However, a higher sales tax is no panacea. It taxes the poor more than it taxes the rich. It may have unintended negative consequences for schools, and no one can guarantee it will be spent as promised.
Senator Rice should go back to the drawing board.