Idaho Voters Tax Themselves $1 Billion To Fill School Budget Holes

Sep 17, 2014

Credit Emilie Ritter Saunders / Boise State Public Radio

Since July 1, 2007 — and during Butch Otter’s two terms as governor — school districts have backfilled their budgets with more than $1 billion in supplemental property tax levies.

The amount of the levies has steadily grown during Otter’s first eight years in office. So too has districts’ reliance on these short-term voter-approved levies.

Idaho Education News analyzed supplemental property tax levy figures from 1992 through June 30. The analysis uses July 1, 2007 as a breakpoint, for several reasons. The date roughly coincides with Otter’s election as governor. Ten months earlier, at the urging of then-Gov. Jim Risch, lawmakers approved a tax shift that eliminated most school property taxes and raised the sales tax to cover much of the difference. And July 1, 2007 predates the Great Recession, which saw Idaho impose a series of unprecedented cuts in K-12 funding.

The results:

  • From 2007-08 through 2013-14, a period ending June 30, the schools collected $956.2 million in levies, an average of $136.6 million per year.
  • From July 1, 1992 through June 30, 2007, a 15-year period, districts collected $867.9 million in levies. That averages out to $57.9 million a year.

Supplemental levy numbers for 2014-15 — the current budget year, which began July 1 — won’t be available for several weeks. But when those numbers are factored in, the cost of supplemental levies during Otter’s tenure will easily eclipse the $1 billion mark.

The Commonplace Levy

Supplemental property taxes generally run one to two years, and require a simple majority to pass. There is nothing new about this taxing authority. But since 2007, supplemental levies have grown almost commonplace across Idaho.

Ninety-one of Idaho’s 115 school districts had a supplemental levy on the books in 2013-14, up from 59 districts in 2006-07, the budget year that ended on June 30, 2007.

Levies have become widespread — in larger, urban districts with a robust property tax base, and in smaller, rural communities as well. Supplemental levies are collected in at least part of every county in the state.

The 91 districts with supplemental levies accounted for a combined 2013-14 enrollment of 247,587, or close to 92 percent of the 269,598 students attending Idaho’s public schools. (Idaho’s remaining 19,367 students attend charter schools that cannot collect property taxes.)

Click here to read the rest of this story from Idaho Ed News.