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Tax change may be spurring need for levies

You would be hard pressed to find a school district in southern Idaho that doesn’t need more money. School administrators say they’re struggling every day to operate.

Of course, the recession has a lot to do with it, but some say the recessions blow would have been softened if it weren’t for a tax change made a few years ago.

School districts started feeling the financial squeeze soon after the recession hit.

So many began cutting or dipping into savings to make it through.

Now, the number of districts across the state asking for levy help from voters has exploded.

“And now they’re at a point that they have no where else to go. They don’t have money left in their fund balances, they can’t make any more cuts,” School District 25 Spokeswoman Shelley Allen said.

During then-Gov. Jim Risch’s term, support for education was moved from property tax to an increase in sales tax.

Some school officials say that might work fine when it’s smooth sailing for the economy, but once we hit a rough patch, it means a whole lot of chaos.

“When you took away that stable funding, and you put it on sales tax, which is not a stable form of funding anyway. Then the economy tanked. The sales tax went way down, then we were left at the will of the Legislature,” Allen said.

Risch, now a U.S. senator, says every change in tax law has positives and negatives, but he doesn’t see anybody complaining about their lower property taxes.

“Their property tax bill today would be 20 percent higher than it is, had they not passed that,” Risch said.

The change was voted on by the public and sailed through with 72 percent of the vote.

But if opinion flips, Risch says it’s not set in stone.

“This is only a law. If people want to change it back, all they’d have to do is get the Legislature to change it, or do an initiative,” Risch said.

For levy and bond results from Tuesday, see

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