Reflections on the 2023 Legislature and goals for 2024

Property taxes, public and private school support among top issues

By Sen. Scott Herndon, R-Sagle
Reader Contributor

Happy New Year! Last year at this time we faced a forecast that the state of Idaho had $1.4 billion of expected tax collections above planned expenses.

Unfortunately, some state budgets grew four times the rate of inflation, and legislators seemed unwilling to keep those in check. We added the new Idaho Launch program for $80 million a year, which will put $8,000 in every high school graduate’s pocket. The caveat is that a council appointed by the governor determines which careers receive the money.

The majority of Republicans opposed the new program, arguing it was a form of corporate welfare. There will be many who laud this post-graduate assistance. However, consider that Idaho is giving this annual taxpayer money to high school graduates to be trained to work for corporations that are making record profits in Idaho.

District 1 Sen. Scott Herndon. File photo.

The money used for Launch was originally set aside to help K-12 education, and there remain huge challenges for aging public school facilities throughout the state. I preferred the money be used to solve those ongoing issues and will attempt to find ways to help solve the ongoing school facilities challenges this session.

Fortunately, we did funnel some new money to school facilities through House Bill 292 (H292). When I got my property tax bill last month, I enjoyed an almost 17% cut in those taxes because of H292. Those tax cuts will continue in future years, though the amounts saved will be different each year.

H292 also provides new funding every year to public school facility maintenance. This year, LPOSD received $1.4 million, Boundary schools received $515,000 and West Bonner got $422,000. State funded teacher pay raises are $6,359 for the year; and, in the new session, I will attempt to bake those increases permanently into the career ladder.

In the last session I sponsored a bill that passed the Senate that would provide every public school teacher direct reimbursement for incidental costs they are currently paying themselves to equip their classrooms with materials.

For example, a teacher may acquire books at a library book sale. Teachers tell me they usually pay hundreds of dollars a year for these incidental expenses necessary to their classrooms, and there is no reimbursement from their schools. I have discussed my Teacher Spending Account bill with the House and Senate and see a path for it to succeed in this new session.

Idaho enjoys strength with our protections for education options. We expanded public charter school assistance last year and passed open enrollment. Many parents also enjoy their ability to send their kids to private schools or to privately home school. In fact, some have moved to our state because we have had for decades such excellent protections for private education.

Both Republicans and Democrats respect those freedoms, so I will be introducing a constitutional amendment to add the right of parents to cause their children to be privately educated. This will ensure for generations that Idaho enjoys the same level of private education freedom as we do today.

Even with the passage of some property tax relief, homeowners are still asking for additional protections from rising property tax costs for older homeowners who are on a fixed income. In recent years, there has been a shift of property tax burden from commercial and agricultural taxpayers to residential taxpayers. I will continue to return the burden to a more historical balance.

After several years of record federal debt-financed spending in Idaho related to the pandemic response, Idaho will see a major drop-off in federal stimulus in this next session. Idaho’s own projected tax collections versus planned expenses mean we will have far less new money to spend this year. Many COVID-related grant programs that have impacted all agencies of state government will go away after this next session’s budget cycle.

But, Idaho enjoys continued growth in our population, and the business environment is healthy despite the past several years of inflation. I trust Idaho will continue to succeed as a state that enjoys natural beauty, low taxes and low regulation.

Please contact me if you need anything as I represent you in Boise these next few months.

Sen. Scott Herndon is a Republican legislator representing District 1. He serves on the Education and Joint Finance-Appropriations committees. Contact him at [email protected] or call 208-610-2680.

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