IDAHO FALLS — Bonneville County Republicans are encouraging locals to vote against a source of funding for a proposed community college in Idaho Falls.
On April 13 the Bonneville County Republican Central Committee met together to pass a resolution about not having a community college district. The district would draw on property taxes to fund the anticipated College of Eastern Idaho, which would be formed from Eastern Idaho Technical College.
Larry Lyon, affiliated with the IdaHope PAC (Political Action Committee) presented the opposing viewpoints to the community college district while Sen. Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, gave a presentation in favor.
“It’s not just establishing another community college — it’s establishing another taxing district,” Lyon told EastIdahoNews.com. “This is another entity to take away your money, your property by force.”
One of the points of contention was the fear of the college’s tax dollars going toward other means. Lyon presented the example of the College of Southern Idaho’s Refugee Center. The resolution stated that there is no guarantee that the community college wouldn’t engage in “controversial and divisive activities beyond the scope of its educational mission.”
“The CSI Refugee Center, that’s just an example to illustrate the point that these things can have a scope creep. (If they) creep beyond the boundaries of their mission what can you do about it? Nothing? You’re just stuck,” Lyon said.
“I expect them to be laser focused on education and not distracted with anything else.”
His hope is that tax dollars would be used for what it was intended for and nothing more.
“If I’m paying for government taxes for an educational institution, I expect them to be laser focused on education and not distracted with anything else,” Lyon said.
Lyon said the Republican group is opposed to having more taxes that could potentially be a burden on locals. He said people who signed a petition months ago to move the proposal of the district forward may not have known what they were signing.
“When those people signed the petition, were they getting the whole story or not? I would say I don’t think they were,” Lyon said. “They probably didn’t tell people that it’s going to be run by a board that has the power to increase its budget up to 3 percent a year, every single year.”
Along with the potential annual tax increase, Lyon said having another community college isn’t really necessary. He said Bonneville County is an oasis of higher education opportunity. Lyon spoke on the topic of dual credit option for high school students earning college credit, re-emphasizing opportunities for higher education.
“Is this community college really necessary? We’ve got BYU-Idaho, ISU, U of I, CSI. There’s a Stevens-Henager College right there in Idaho Falls,” Lyon said. “Technical education and online education are really where all the energy is in learning.”
Mortimer told EastIdahoNews.com that having a local community college would have many benefits.
“What a community college will do for Idaho Falls is it will provide much greater accessor our students at a much more affordable price. Availability and the cost of an education goes down dramatically,” Mortimer said.
“It’s more of an investment in our community … than it is a tax.”
He said currently there is a lack of affordable education, and the community college would fill that need.
“It is not replacing EITC — it’s expanding the mission of a technical school. I believe it will provide additional access for students,” Mortimer said.
Mortimer said the tax increase is minor and he views it as an investment in the community.
“It’s a very small tax, and in my opinion it’s more of an investment in our community, an investment in our education system, than it is a tax. There are people that are completely opposed to any and all taxes,” Mortimer said.
Steven Taggart, spokesman for Citizens for Affordable Higher Education, said the resolution by the Republican committee does not reflect the facts.
“It’s fair to say it reflects the more extreme impulses of some members of the committee,” Taggart said. “What we do is we reduce the cost of education locally. We expand the opportunities for education, and we do it at minimal cost.”
Taggart said the resolution neglects to mention that higher education programs available in Idaho Falls are extremely limited. Taggart said members of the committee are misunderstanding dual credits, online courses and the availability of entry-level courses locally.
“What we’re lacking is the inexpensive entry-level programs. That’s what a community college will provide,” Taggart said.
Currently there isn’t a need for new infrastructure at EITC with its existing buildings. Five million dollars have been allocated by Idaho State Legislature for startup costs, and local property taxes would increase by about $13.37 per year for the average homeowner in Bonneville County.
Taggart said the the 3 percent increase cap is not a mandatory increase, and if it were to increase each year, it would be less than 50 cents.
“It’s true for any taxing entity in Idaho. That’s the maximum you can increase,” Taggart said. “If they went the maximum cap, the most they can increase per year is 40 cents per household.”
Ultimately members of the committee leaned toward not having a community college district during the Thursday meeting and the resolution passed 21 to 11. Voters can choose to support or deny the proposed community college district on the May 16 election.
Idaho State Journal staff
Nate Sunderland, EastIdahoNews.com
Ian Kerner, CNN