Simmering below the surface of the Luna plan debate – and Idaho’s ongoing budget hole – is this question: Would Idahoans be willing to raise additional revenue for schools? Idaho’s public K-12 schools have already taken a $200 million hit over the past two years and may be facing another cut for Fiscal Year 2012 starting this June.
A bipartisan citizens forum organized by Reps. Shirley Ringo and Tom Trail is set next Saturday, February 19, to explore whether the Idaho Legislature should consider measures to bring in additional revenue “to offset some or all of the drastic cutbacks which Idaho’s institutions and programs will suffer if no new funds are levied.” The meeting is planned for from 9 a.m. to noon in the Capitol Auditorium (WW02). The first half-hour or so will include presentations on Idaho’s budget situation and sales tax reforms available to address it; the rest of the time will be devoted to taking testimony on both sides of the issue from citizens and groups. There will be a Rally for Medicaid on the Statehouse steps at noon; it's part of a statewide series of rallies aimed at drawing attention to the steep budget cuts planned for Medicaid services in Idaho.
In related news, Boise State University released its Public Policy Survey this week, conducted via interviews of adults in 525 households statewide between November 18 and January 8. The survey concluded a few days before Superintendent Tom Luna unveiled his plan to overhaul education, so no questions were asked about that.
Among the most notable results:
- 56 percent “strongly agree” that state budget cuts have affected the quality of their children’s education. Another 19 percent “somewhat agree.”
- 53 percent think Idaho should raise the sales tax to support the K-12 school budget.
Support is stronger for raising taxes specifically for education than to “close the budget gap.” Only 39 percent of those surveyed favor doing that, while 41 percent were “strongly” opposed.
Of course, Idahoans have already been raising our taxes to help fund education, especially since the Legislature shifted the tax burden onto local citizens starting in 2006. Since FY 2007, school districts have increased their supplemental levies by $34.8 million dollars, or 44 percent. Idahoans have passed levies in every corner of the state, even in districts hard hit by recession, because they value quality schools.