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Governor’s plan to replace Idaho’s aging schools signed into law

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Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, testifying before the Senate Government Taxation & Committee about HB 521. Watch the hearing in the video above. | Courtesy Idaho Legislature

IDAHO FALLS – The governor’s plan to replace Idaho’s aging schools, which he introduced in his State of the State address in January, has been signed into law, but one eastern Idaho senator is calling the bill an “inappropriate” response to schools’ needs.

HB 521, sponsored by Rep. Mike Moyle, R-Star, Rep, Jason Monks, R-Meridian and Sen. Doug Ricks, R-Rexburg, was signed by Gov. Brad Little on March 29.

During his State of the State address, Gov. Brad Little introduced a 10-year, $2 billion plan to replace Idaho’s aging public school buildings. It’s a proposal he and his aides have determined is the largest investment in school facilities in state history.

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The signed legislation provides $125 million in ongoing sales tax revenue to the new School Modernization Facilities Fund. Under the bill, sales tax revenue directed to the fund will increase from 2.25% to 3.25%. Any existing lottery dividends will be redirected to the fund as well.

“This legislation reduces income taxes from 5.8% to 5.695%, allowing Idahoans to have more money to better support local bonds and levies related to school facilities,” according to the bill’s statement of purpose.

The bill passed with a vote of 61-6 in the House on Feb. 23. The six representatives who opposed it are all Boise Democrats.

It passed the Senate with a vote of 23-11 on March 21. Of the 11 senators who opposed it, only three were Democrats, all from Boise. Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, is the only local legislator to oppose the legislation.

Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom
Sen. Jim Guthrie, R-Inkom, is the only local legislator to oppose HB 521. | 2018 file photo

In a conversation with, Guthrie says there are several reasons he opposed the bill, one of which has to do with what’s laid out in the Idaho Constitution.

“The constitution is pretty particular about the path for legislation to be of only one subject. More and more over the past years, we’ve been combining all kinds of different things into one bill. There’s enough in there that people like so they vote for stuff they don’t like. I’m growing tired of that,” Guthrie says.

Guthrie also cites concerns with borrowing $1 billion over the next decade in a time when interest rates are the highest they’ve been since 2001.

“We’re going to pay $250 million in interest over the next 10 years to borrow that billion dollars,” he says.

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Under the bill, the amount each school receives will be based on average daily attendance records. Specific amounts for each school district is listed here.

Guthrie takes issue with the way the money is distributed. He says the funding formula is not “equitable” because rural school districts won’t be getting enough money to make needed repairs.

“It costs just as much to build a junior high in a rural district as it does in Ada County,” says Guthrie. “These rural districts don’t have the bonding capacity, and when they do bond, the burden on the taxpayer is exponentially higher than it is in some of the metropolitan areas.”

Additionally, Guthrie says the state department is encouraging school districts to move away from a four-day week in exchange for implementing this legislation. More than half of school districts in the state are on a four-day week, Guthrie says, and this bill is not sensitive to individual community decisions.

It isn’t fair for the state to determine a local school district’s schedule, he says.

Guthrie says he is supportive of providing funds to replace aging schools, but he’d take a different approach.

“What I tried to get them to do is take a breath on this thing, and let’s go back to having subject matter stand on its own (and not put a whole bunch of stuff in one bill),” he says. “We’ve got to stop that. It’s inappropriate.”

Others expressed similar concerns during the Senate Local Government and Taxation Committee Hearing on March 5, which you can watch in the video above.

In a news release from the Governor’s Office on March 21, Little again referred to the bill as a “historic investment in school facilities” and cited sweeping benefits for people across the state.

“House Bill 521 has the dual benefit of making school learning environments more productive while giving back more income and property tax relief to hardworking Idahoans,” according to the news release.

The bill will fully become law on July 1.

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