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On March 10th, voters in both Caldwell School District 132 and Middleton School District 134 will actually have two decisions to make regarding the school levy on their respective ballots. The first question will determine if they support a new tax for the projects that are to be funded with this money. The second, and perhaps more important, is if the patrons of these districts accept and approve what appears to be blatant electioneering right on the ballot.

Pertaining to the levy and new tax itself, I have no opinion as I do not live in either district nor know the issue at hand. But as to the wording on these ballots, let me offer my strongest opinions: I feel these two ballots are clearly illegal because it appears there is electioneering occurring right in the ballot booth.

My issue is that the ballot includes “extra-curricular” language where these two districts apparently have added “hand selected” financial items to clearly influence the vote. Both ballots list “expected” favorable future financial decisions that may or may not occur. The ballot then says “Therefore, the proposed supplemental levy…” and then draws a financial conclusion for the voter that seems to be favorable if they support the levy. It seems this conclusion is only expected and not guaranteed.

What happens if something different occurs than what is “expected?” If conditions changes and the district does no come through as “expected” and as stated on the ballot, does the election get overturned or voided?

Why do I care? I helped write the law last year that said that financial information for levies be put on the ballot, specifically what you will pay for each $100K of property taxes per year. I worked with legislators and the bill passed unanimously in the House and Senate and became law July 1, 2019. What we never imagined was that school districts would add selected information to go along with the required disclosures.

Indeed, we’ve been told these districts had high paid attorneys actually write the ballot language. The election office does not regulate too much what is submitted, and the Secretary of State’s office really doesn’t do too much. The recourse, I am told, is that citizens with standing, meaning residents, can first complain and protest the selected wording, and as a last resort challenge the language in court either before or after the election. Indeed, a court hearing will probably be the only way to see if schools can add selected and what I feel is favorable ballot wording with claims built on “expectations” with seemingly implied financial outcomes that are favorable to taxpayers.

So, in my view, these elections are more about what some see as electioneering on the ballot more than the levies and new taxes themselves. And taxes, regardless of the levy “rate” keep going up because values keep going up. But that is another topic.

Brian Stutzman is an author and real estate investor and helped Rep. Doug Ricks write HB 103, the disclosure law.

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