Rebecca Boone
Rebecca is a correspondent based in Idaho.
boiseboonerboone@ap.org

Reclaim Idaho pulls education funding initiative from ballot

September 7, 2022 GMT

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Organizers of an education funding initiative have asked to have the measure pulled from the November ballot after the Idaho Legislature last week passed a massive tax cut and education spending bill that made the initiative moot.

Reclaim Idaho’s initiative, dubbed the Quality Education Act, would have generated an estimated $323 million each year for K-12 education by increasing income taxes for corporations and the state’s highest-earning residents. That would have amounted to about a 14% increase over the state’s normal education funding.

But the new legislation signed into law on Sept. 1 created a flat income tax bracket for the entire state and increased public education funding by $410 million a year. The flat tax and education funding takes effect on Jan. 3 — effectively overriding the Quality Education Act, which would take effect on Jan. 1 if approved by voters in November.

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Reclaim Idaho volunteers gathered signatures across the state for more than a year, ultimately submitting more than 100,000 petition signatures to the Idaho Secretary of State’s office in July, qualifying for the ballot.

Deborah Ferguson, a Boise attorney representing Reclaim Idaho, wrote a letter to Secretary of State Lawerence Denney on Tuesday saying that the initiative should be withdrawn from the ballot “in light of these extraordinary events.”

Deputy Secretary of State Jason Hancock replied the same day, agreeing to the request and saying the measure would not appear on the general election ballot. But he warned that it could cause some confusion for voters, since the state has already begun printing the roughly 800,000 Voter’s Pamphlets that are mailed to every household in Idaho. Hancock said he didn’t know if an initiative has ever been withdrawn so late in the process.

“A withdrawal of Proposition One renders much of the content of this Voters’ Pamphlet irrelevant, and indeed, confusing to voters,” Hancock wrote. “As such, please be prepared to address this confusion in press and in public.”

Reclaim Idaho founder Luke Mayville confirmed in a phone call Wednesday that the organization made the decision to pull the initiative. Leaving it in place would be more confusing, he said, because voters could end up passing something that would be overwritten just two days after it takes effect.

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“There is disappointment that comes with that, but when we step back and look at the bigger picture, it is clear that we’ve won because there is more than one way for an initiative campaign to succeed,” Mayville said.

Traditionally, that would mean going to the ballot box and winning the votes needed to pass, he said.

But in this case, Mayville said, it was by “forcing the Legislature to do something they never would have done. That’s a big step forward for Idaho and a major victory for all of the countless volunteers who were part of the Quality Education Act campaign.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little, a Republican, called the special session in August so lawmakers could direct part of the state’s $2 billion budget surplus to bolster public school funding and pass tax cuts intended help residents cope with inflation.

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The proposal overwhelmingly passed both houses and Little signed the bill on Sept. 1. In addition to increasing education spending by $410 million a year, funded by sales taxes, the legislation cuts $150 million in income and corporate taxes by creating a 5.8% flat tax. It also included $500 million in one-time income tax rebates.

Republicans have long pushed for a flat tax, and Democrats have fought for increased education funding. The combination made the proposal hard to oppose for many lawmakers.

Reclaim Idaho’s Quality Education Act, meanwhile, would have increased the corporate income tax rate from 6% to 8% and placed some of the highest-earning individuals in the state in a new 10.925% tax bracket.

The changes would have generated an estimated $323 million each year to go toward things like teacher and support staff salaries, reducing class sizes, hiring school counselors, providing classroom supplies and for special education services and programs like art, music, career-technical education and full-day kindergarten.

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Now that it has been withdrawn, voters may still read about the initiative in Voter Education materials but will not see it on the ballot when they vote in the Nov. 8 general election.

They will, however, see an “advisory vote,” a non-binding vote where they can weigh in on the new legislation.

“Governor Little and the Idaho Legislature championed the conservative approach to making historic education investments while cutting taxes,” Little’s spokeswoman Emily Callihan said. “The voters of Idaho will have the opportunity in November, through an advisory vote, to affirm the decision to use the state’s record budget surplus to help Idaho families and schools struggling with the impacts of 40-year high inflation.”