By REBECCA BOONE Associated Press
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Education funding, property tax relief and a tug of war over how best to use Idaho’s whopping budget surplus will be a focus for lawmakers as they gather in Boise on Monday for the start of the 2023 legislative session.
As usual, Republicans hold a supermajority in the Idaho Statehouse. But this year, there are a lot of new faces: Roughly 40 out of 105 lawmakers are newly elected.
“They all come with new ideas about how to make Idaho a better place,” Speaker of the House Mike Moyle, a Republican from Star, said Thursday during a legislative preview panel hosted by the Idaho Press Club.
Idaho in recent years has often seen monthly revenue exceed projections, spurred by a mix of fast population growth and three influxes of federal COVID-19 rescue money that has heated up the state’s economy.
Last month the state’s budget surplus was projected to top $1.5 billion. Big budget surpluses generally increase the likelihood of tax cut proposals in Idaho, but the last major income and corporate tax cut was just passed in September. That could make property tax relief a focus this year.
During the legislative preview, Idaho Gov. Brad Little noted that housing affordability is an issue, and said the state has “got room to do some work” on property taxes.
There are conflicting ideas on the best approach, however. Some lawmakers favor restricting local government budgets as a way to control property tax, while others say a partial tax exemption for homeowners should be increased or the state should increase its own funding for some of the costs typically borne by local governments.
Lawmakers must also decide exactly how to distribute a $410 million annual increase in education funding from a bill that was passed last fall during a special session. The money comes from sales taxes, with $330 million earmarked for K-12 public education and another $80 million going toward training for what lawmakers dubbed “in-demand occupations.”
Senate Minority Leader Melissa Wintrow, a Democrat from Boise, said meeting the state’s obligation to fully pay for public education remains a Democratic priority.
“We need to keep public funds in public education,” she said.
Last year, some lawmakers proposed a school voucher system that would allow parents to take public education funding and use it for private schools, homeschooling or tutoring.
“We’ve heard about the competition for resources and the tension that creates for education, so let’s not increase that tension any more,” Wintrow said.
The session will start with Little’s annual State of the State Address, set for 1 p.m. in the House Chambers.