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Post Register, Idaho Falls

Idaho conservatives were quick to call the Affordable Care Act unconstitutional.

Folks from Sandpoint to Victor became experts on the Commerce Clause. Gov. Butch Otter protested “federal command and control over this country’s health care system.” The Republican legislative majority encouraged Attorney General Lawrence Wasden to sue the feds, which he did. All this to uphold the U.S. Constitution.

That brings us to a 20-page analysis of public school funding conducted by Idaho’s former chief economist Mike Ferguson, who heads up the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

Ferguson argues that Idaho’s public school funding mechanism violates two sections of the state Constitution: one requiring that legislators “establish and maintain a general, uniform and thorough system of public, free common schools;” and Article VII, Section 5, which says, “All taxes shall be uniform upon the same class of subjects. ….”

As the percentage of the state budget allocated for public schools has decreased, districts have become more reliant upon local property owners to pay maintenance and operation (M&O) costs — teacher salaries, utilities, etc. But not all Idaho communities have the same ability or willingness to backfill school budgets. That creates the kind of unlevel playing field prohibited by the state Constitution.

Prior to 2007, the total statewide amount of M&O funding available was divided among Idaho’s school districts according to need. That equalizer disappeared when lawmakers ended M&O tax levying authority in 2006.

As a result, Ferguson wrote, a property tax levy in the Snake River School District would need to be 30 times higher than a levy in the McCall-Donnelly District to raise the same amount of money. Equalization put the taxpayers in Moreland and McCall on the same footing. Ending it, Ferguson argues, violated the constitutional provision demanding uniform taxation. This shouldn’t come as a surprise. The Idaho Supreme Court, in 2005, said reliance on property taxes to build schools violated the state Constitution.

So here we have the state’s highest court and premier economist saying Idaho’s method of funding and building schools violates the state Constitution.

Will all those so eager to protect the U.S. Constitution rise up to defend Idaho’s guiding document? If not, does that not expose this truth: that opposition to health care reform is not really guided by principle, but a visceral dislike for the man who proposed it?

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