(UPDATE, 4:08 p.m., with House vote details.)
Gov. Brad Little’s sweeping plan to cut taxes and increase funding for education cleared its biggest hurdle on Thursday afternoon.
After more than two hours of debate, the House passed Little’s House Bill 1 on a 55-15 vote, clearing the way for the Senate to consider the bill next. The bill has broad bipartisan support to pass the Senate — meaning lawmakers could wrap up their work later today.
With just one bill on the agenda – but with more than $1 billion at stake – the Legislative Assembly resumed sitting at 8 a.m. Thursday.
Known in Statehouse lingo as a special session or “extraordinary session,” the session centers on a proposal to provide $500 million in one-time tax credits, $150 million in income tax cuts and $410 million in ongoing education funding.
Little unveiled the bill and called the special session on August 23. But the bill making its way through the Legislature on Thursday is different in a significant way: It eliminates a 3% annual “multiplier” to grow $330 million a year. -year K-12 funds.
A heated and technical debate in the House
After more than two hours — and procedural attempts to derail the bill — the House ended up easily passing HB 1.
But first; lawmakers expressed grievances and shared reservations.
Rep. John Vander Woude, R-Nampa, said the bill was built around a “false emergency,” a politically motivated appeal to ease inflation for Idahoans. And, he said, lawmakers had no choice but Little’s bill.
“It’s good legislation and I’ll probably vote for it, because you’ve cornered me,” he said.
In the end, Vander Woude voted yes.
So does Rep. Lauren Necochea, D-Boise. She criticized the income tax cuts, calling them a tired and “unbalanced” strategy that will largely benefit the wealthy. She also said the Legislature should have dealt with schools sooner — before Reclaim Idaho won a spot in November for a campaign initiative to pump $330 million into K-12. “It was necessary, apparently, to wake us up.”
However, naysayers were in no mood to settle. While the governor has the exclusive power to call a special session — and set the agenda — House conservatives said they should have been given the opportunity to introduce other bills.
“A properly functioning legislature … should consider all options,” said Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg.
Rep. Judy Boyle, R-Midvale, said she drafted an alternative bill, which would have replaced increased funding for education with property tax relief. Instead, she said, lawmakers deferred to the governor. “We’re a separate branch, and we haven’t acted like this in a very long time,” Boyle said.
HB 1 survived two procedural challenges – an attempt to split tax cuts and education funding into separate bills; and an attempt to amend the bill. Either move could have effectively derailed HB 1, but both moves failed easily.
During the long debate, the anger died down.
Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, said she wouldn’t support investing more money in K-12 until schools eliminate critical race theory and libraries pull the books. obscene documents from their shelves. “Kids these days don’t know if they’re a boy or a girl when they graduate.”
Several Democrats rose to protest.
Minutes later, Rep. John McCrostie, a Garden City Democrat and music teacher, chastised critics for “attacking” public education — a word choice that drew objection from Nate.
A joint public hearing and shared testimonies
The public had its first chance — and perhaps its only chance — to speak out on the bill Thursday morning. In a joint public hearing, the House and Senate Tax Committees heard from 15 speakers – nine in favor of HB 1 and six against.
Representatives of some of the state’s major educational organizations, including the Idaho Education Association and the Idaho School Boards Association, testified in support. Conceding that the term has been “weaponized,” ISBA Deputy Director Quinn Perry called the bill a historic investment in education. Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra also spoke in favor of the bill, calling it a chance to silence “naysayers” who question Idaho’s commitment to education.
Brianna Gibson, a fifth-grade teacher at Ridgevue High School in Nampa, expressed her support.
“I wonder if my career choice is more valued in our society…” she said. “I’m not saying that your endorsement of this bill will keep every educator in their job, but for an educator like me, it will help tremendously.”
She cited Vallivue’s recently failed bond measure, which would have funded two elementary schools in the crowded neighborhood, as one of the reasons for her doubt.
Idaho Freedom Foundation Representative Fred Birnbaum testified in opposition, arguing that the additional education funding is not needed because of other historic increases over the past three years.
“It sends the wrong message,” he said. “He accepts the idea that we kind of have underfunded schools.”
Another opponent blamed Idaho’s statewide teacher shortage on mask mandates, before reciting a list of problems with the bill. Another woman said she supports the contents of the bill, but believes it violates the Idaho Constitution.
“A boatload of money” and a far-reaching bill
At 8:30 a.m., Revenue and Taxation formally presented Little’s proposal at the end of a nine-minute meeting.
Committee chairman Steven Harris justified the special session in his presentation of the bill.
“From my perspective, we have a boatload of money,” Harris, R-Meridian, said before addressing the impacts of record inflation on Idahoans.
Zachary Brooks — who replaced Rep. Tammy Nichols, R-Middleton, at the start of Thursday’s session — questioned Harris on the legality of the bill. A section of the state constitution limits all enactments to a single subject.
“That would be settled, obviously, by the courts,” Harris replied.
He added his opinion that the bill meets the standards set out in the Constitution, and said the Attorney General has also reviewed the bill.
This is a developing story. Check back throughout the day for updates.
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