Reclaim Idaho - education initiative -- copy

Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, speaks to visitors about the group’s education initiative during a Reclaim Idaho meeting at the Skyline Activities Center in Idaho Falls on Saturday, Feb. 8, 2020.

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Reclaim Idaho has just filed an expedited motion to enforce the U.S. District Court's order in its case, and certify its initiative to increase school funding in Idaho for an up-or-down vote by Idahoans on the November ballot. "Defendants have made it clear that they do not intend to comply with either option that the Court ordered them to choose," attorney Deborah Ferguson wrote in the court filing. "In light of their extraordinary response, Reclaim Idaho requests that the Court order Defendants to certify the initiative for the November ballot."

The judge gave Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Secretary of State Lawerence Denney two choices, and a deadline of this past Friday at 5 p.m. to pick one or the other: Either certify the initiative for the ballot now, with roughly half the required signatures already collected to qualify it; or give the group another 48 days of signature gathering and allow electronic signature-gathering for safety in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The state responded that it would do neither.

"The other option would require a 'process and protocol' to complete the requested 48-days of online gathering of signatures," Ferguson wrote in the motion. "Defendants’ clear response shows that they have no intention of cooperating with Reclaim Idaho or complying with the Court’s order. For that reason, Reclaim Idaho respectfully requests that the Court order Defendants to certify the initiative for the November 2020 ballot. Defendants have already indicated that they will seek Ninth Circuit review and such an order would put a definitive remedy before the appellate court."

She added, "Further, certification for the ballot is not as time-sensitive as the online gathering of signatures would be."

The group, which sponsored the successful Medicaid expansion initiative and uses all-volunteer signature gatherers, is pressing a new “Invest in Idaho” initiative proposing to raise income tax rates on corporations and the wealthy by 3 percentage points to generate $170 million a year for public schools, reducing the need for local supplemental property tax levies. It’s the exact opposite of what Idaho lawmakers have been doing in recent years; they’ve been gradually lowering both the individual and corporate income tax rates, saying the moves provide tax relief and make Idaho more competitive, as more and more Idaho school districts have begun relying on frequent, voter-approved supplemental levies to fund basic school operations, from teachers to textbooks.

U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote in his ruling last week that Reclaim Idaho was diligently gathering signatures and was ahead of its pace it followed for its successful Medicaid expansion initiative, which Idaho voters approved with more than 61% support in 2018, when the state cut off in-person signature-gathering. Though Reclaim Idaho requested the governor, the secretary of state and the Legislature to consider various accommodations to allow its signature-gathering to qualify the initiative to continue during the pandemic, all refused.

Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.

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