History shows that Idaho voters can be trusted to decide through the petition process what is right for Idahoans when the Legislature doesn’t act. Reclaim Idaho’s Invest in Idaho petition would give Idaho voters the chance to help stabilize funding for public education in Idaho.
Reclaim Idaho’s petition drive was well on its way to gathering the required signatures when stopped in March by the pandemic and Gov. Little’s stay-home order. When Reclaim Idaho asked Gov. Little and Secretary of State Denney to approve resumption of collecting signatures after the stay-home order was lifted, they refused. Reclaim Idaho then sued to continue signature collection as a 1st Amendment right.
Despite Reclaim Idaho’s prevailing in federal court and at the 9th Circuit to resume signature gathering, Gov. Little and Denney have pushed their flimsy case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court — instead of supporting putting the petition on the ballot to let Idaho voters decide its merits. According to Reclaim Idaho’s attorney Deborah Ferguson, constitutional protection of petition circulation as a “core” free speech right is “very well-settled Supreme Court law.” But Gov. Little and Denney bemoaned to the court that allowing the petition drive to resume would “seize control of Idaho’s initiative process” and disrupt upcoming elections, and, the governor stated, would threaten “the integrity of Idaho’s duly enacted laws.”
The integrity of which laws?
Gov. Little and Denney’s legal challenge actually threatens the integrity and strength of the 1912 Idaho constitutional amendment establishing the initiative and referendum process. Under the process, Idaho voters established the Fish and Game Commission, banned dredge mining in riverbeds, enacted the “Sunshine” law requiring disclosure of campaign contributions, and in 2018, by 61% of Idaho voters, expanded Medicaid.
The Invest in Idaho petition would add up to $200 million in funding for K–12 public education when Idaho schools are facing the crippling double threat of a 5% budget cut demanded by Gov. Little for 2021 because of expected pandemic-driven shortfalls in tax revenues, and higher costs of making schools safer during the pandemic. Add to that the National Education Association’s recent annual ranking of Idaho at dead last in state per-pupil funding at only half the national average, and the petition’s importance to Idahoans becomes even more obvious.
If passed by Idaho voters, the petition would increase by 1.1% the corporate tax rate back to its 2000 level and by 3% the tax rate for an individual making $250,000 or more for a couple making $500,000 or more. No taxes would increase for 95% of Idahoans.
The only integrity threatened by allowing Reclaim Idaho to continue its petition drive is the governor’s own. By persisting with the costly, likely futile, and dangerous challenge to resuming the petition drive, particularly when it supports stable funding for public education, which is the foundation of a healthy Idaho and the governor’s own 2018 campaign platform, the governor is protecting the financial interests of the wealthiest 5% of Idahoans at the expense of the rest of us and Idaho’s future.
Pat Tucker is the chairwoman of the Bonneville County Democratic Party