State Politics

Reclaim Idaho proposes initiative to tax corporations, the wealthy to raise $170M for schools

Reclaim Idaho, the grassroots group responsible for getting the Medicaid expansion initiative on the ballot last year, has set its sights on a new initiative: raise $170 million for K-12 public schools by increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy.

Reclaim Idaho’s initiative proposal, named “Invest in Idaho,” calls for increasing the tax rate by three points for individuals who make more than $250,000 annually and married couples who make more than $500,000. It would also restore the corporate tax rate to 8 percent, the rate that existed from 1987 to 2000.

“These reforms would impact fewer than 5 percent of all Idahoans,” Reclaim Idaho said in a news release Wednesday announcing its new initiative.

By generating more money for schools, Reclaim Idaho also says its proposal will “reduce the need for burdensome property-tax levies. Idaho property taxpayers now pay over $200 million annually in local levies — over three times what they paid in 2004.”

“The politicians in Boise give away our tax dollars to out-of-state interests while Idaho teachers are forced to pay for their own supplies. Idaho’s children find themselves at a competitive disadvantage, and property tax payers in rural districts shoulder an unfair tax burden,” said Reclaim Idaho Executive Director Rebecca Schroeder. “We want to level the playing field for all Idahoans so that every boy and girl, no matter where they live, have a fair shot at success in this state.”

Reclaim Idaho submitted its initiative petition to the Secretary of State’s Office on Aug. 31.

The Secretary of State and Attorney General offices have to vet the proposal to ensure it meets requirements. Once the two offices determine the petition complies, Reclaim Idaho can start gathering the 55,000 signatures needed to get an initiative on the general election ballot next year.

The Secretary of State’s Office has already OK’d two proposed initiative petitions for the 2020 election — one to legalize medical marijuana, the other to increase Idaho’s minimum wage.

The big issue: Big out-of-state money

Earlier this year, some state GOP lawmakers spearheaded an effort to tighten the process in which residents can get an initiative or referendum on the ballot for a statewide vote.

The Idaho Legislature narrowly passed SB 1159, but Gov. Brad Little stepped in and vetoed that bill, saying he was concerned about the bill not being able to withstand a legal challenge. Had SB 1159 become law, Idaho would have had the most onerous ballot initiative requirements in the nation.

One reason lawmakers said they want to tighten the initiative process is a concern that out-of-state money will fund the ability to get certain issues on, or keep them off, the ballot.

In April, Brent Regan, chairman of Idaho Freedom Foundation and Kootenai County GOP, filed a campaign finance complaint with Idaho’s Secretary of State claiming Reclaim Idaho violated campaign finance laws by not reporting that The Fairness Project, an out-of-state organization, paid $500,000 to help get the Medicaid expansion initiative on the ballot by hiring signature gathers.

Even though the money did not directly go to Reclaim Idaho, Regan contended Reclaim Idaho still should have reported it as an in-kind contribution. The Secretary of State’s office on July 23 rejected the complaint, telling Regan, “We have investigated the allegations and did not identify any violations.”

During an Aug. 15 town hall meeting Reclaim Idaho held on the initiative process in Eagle, an audience member asked about out-of-state money from The Fairness Project going to Reclaim Idaho.

Reclaim Idaho co-founder Luke Mayville reiterated to the audience that was not correct.

“For the record, you will not find evidence that Reclaim Idaho took a penny from the Fairness Project,” Mayville said. “The Secretary of State conducted an investigation and found that the allegation was false. ... That is a fact.”

Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones, who was a panelist at the town hall meeting, told the audience that big out-of-state money is coming into Idaho.

“You want to talk about the big money from out of state, it is going to the lobbyists and the state Legislature,” he said. “Money from out of state is coming into our legislature to influence the laws of our state, the laws that we have to live under on a day-to-day basis.”

As for its new education funding initiative, Reclaim Idaho said it “has no plans to take large donations from any out-of-state organization to fund the signature drive and we don’t anticipate that issue will come up.”

“Honestly, our priority is getting volunteers organized and fired up around the state to collect signatures once the initiative gets approved,” Jeremy Gugino, Reclaim Idaho communications director, told the Statesman.

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Idaho Statesman investigative reporter Cynthia Sewell was named Idaho Press Club reporter of the year in 2017 and 2008. A University of Oregon graduate, she joined the Statesman in 2005. Her family has lived in Idaho since the mid-1800s.