BOISE — Reclaim Idaho, the group behind the successful Medicaid expansion initiative, has filed a new initiative, dubbed “Invest in Idaho,” to raise income tax rates on corporations and the wealthy by 3 percentage points to generate $170 million a year for public schools.

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.

“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,” Reclaim Idaho Executive Director Rebecca Schroeder said in a news release. “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.”

The group said its 2020 ballot measure would reduce the need for local property tax overrides to fund schools, which have proliferated across Idaho in recent years. The money raise would be dedicated to K-12 public schools.

It would take more than 55,000 signatures from registered Idaho voters for the initiative to make the November 2020 ballot. Proposed initiatives already circulating in Idaho include one to raise the minimum wage and one to legalize medical marijuana.

Last year, the Idaho Legislature passed a proposed law to make it much harder to qualify any initiative for the Idaho ballot, but Gov. Brad Little vetoed it; it would have given Idaho the toughest restrictions on voter initiatives of any state.

The proposed initiative from Reclaim Idaho would restore the corporate income tax rate to 8%, its rate from 1987 to 2000; and increase tax rates for individuals who make more than $250,000 and married couples who make more than $500,000. The group said the changes would impact fewer than 5% of Idahoans. It cited a recent Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy report showing that 81% of the benefit from the state’s corporate income tax rate reductions flowed to out-of-state shareholders.

The right to initiative and referendum was enshrined in the Idaho Constitution by lawmakers and voters in 1912, but few measures have actually passed. Among the successful ones were the 1938 initiative to create the Idaho Fish and Game Commission; the Sunshine Law in 1974, which requires campaign finance reporting and lobbyist disclosure; the homeowners exemption in 1982; a tribal gambling initiative in 2002; the repeal of the “Students Come First” laws on school reform in 2012; and the Medicaid expansion initiative in 2018.

In the past two decades, most proposed initiatives have failed to collect the required number of signatures to make the ballot.

Boise State University political scientist Jaclyn Kettler said, “I do think that it is challenging to get tax increases passed. They’re going to have to do a lot of messaging, that this isn’t going to affect most people (in their tax bills).”

Jasper LiCalzi, College of Idaho political scientist, said, “It’s not easy to get stuff on the ballot here,” but Reclaim Idaho showed in the Medicaid campaign that it can do it. “I think it’s fascinating,” he said. “You’ll see money against this, oh my goodness.”

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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