So here’s a scary thought. We could go to our files, pull out a column written some 30 years ago, run it in this space today – and readers could not tell it was old news.
That’s bad for a couple of reasons.
First, being subjected to this drivel once is punishment enough. But to expect readers to wade through a second time should be, if it is not, illegal.
But the real reason it is bad that a column from three decades past can pass muster today is it is proof that nothing has change.
In fact, things are worse.
Next week school patrons in St. Maries and the Plummer/Worley school districts will be asked to approve supplemental levies. Money from the added property taxes will be used to operate schools - pay teachers, run buses, heat building, buy electricity, etc. etc.
Nobody likes paying additional taxes – least of all, property taxes. No tax is more costly to administer or more unfair than the property tax.
If St. Maries and Plummer/Worley were one of only a few school districts with supplemental levies, then voters may have reason to question why the two districts cannot operate within their means.
But in fact, the vast majority of Idaho school districts rely on supplemental levies to operate. What’s more – per above – this has been the norm for some 30 years.
If the state does not provide enough funding to operate schools, the only alternative for your school trustees is the ask voters to pay additional property taxes to balance the budget.
And this is some serious balancing.
The St. Maries supplemental levy represents some 25 percent of the district’s general fund spending.
Read that again.
Almost one in every four dollars the district spends is provided through the supplemental levy. Not by choice – but because state funding leaves the district that much short.
If the levy represented a small percentage of the total budget – say 5 percent – then it would make sense for voters to expect trustees to trim, tighten and squeeze to get by without the additional tax.
But cutting 25 percent is not possible, at least if after the cutting is done patrons expect something that resembles a school. It is even more far-fetched to claim the cuts would be possible given that some 85 percent of the budget goes to pay staff.
Even the most vocal critic would agree it's tough to run a school without teachers.
If only our state leaders would revert to their old form.
That is, there was a time when Idaho Republicans were dedicated to the effort to eliminate and/or severely curtail property taxes. In fact, the party led the successful effort to limit property tax collectons.
But that’s all changed.
These days, when they meet in Boise for the legislative session, our legislators repeatedly adopt school budgets that include gaping holes – RE: St. Maries and Plummer/Worley. Gaping budget holes that force local voters to raise property taxes to close them.
The advantage for legislators is they avoid the most miserable of all votes – one to raise taxes. Instead, they foist that duty off onto local patrons.
While local voters have approved these levies from 30+ years – things are different this year in St. Maries.
Trustees are asking St. Maries patrons to approve a second levy, one for maintenance of school buildings; roofs, siding, windows, heating systems and the like. Local school patrons paid this levy for years, but some 15 years ago it lapsed.
It is needed again.
Several buildings need new roofs. In fact, the district planned for a roof last year at the UpRiver School and proposed to pay the cost out of its current budget. The bid, however, was double its estimated cost – and far outstripped money the district had available.
The roof still needs to be replaced.
Next Tuesday voters in St. Maries and Plummer/Worley are asked to approve a hike in property taxes to fund schools. As distasteful as this is, the alternative is worse.
Vote YES Tuesday.
DAN HAMMES is publisher of the Gazette Record.