Bill would limit ballot funding measures

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(Photo by KYLE PFANNENSTIEL) Rep. Heather Scott presents a bill to restrict repeat ballot measures for public funding requests to the House State Affairs Committee on Feb. 16.

The House State Affairs Committee advanced a bill to restrict repeat ballot measures for public funding requests.

The bill, HB 487, would restrict bonds or levies from being put on ballot measures for 11 months after being rejected.

“This bill really makes entitles think about what they’re proposing and if what they’re asking for is what they really need,” said Rep. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, the bill’s sponsor.

Scott said she proposed the bill in efforts of stopping “aggressive” taxing districts from proposing funding measures on the ballot a few months after losing a vote.

Originally, the bill had restrictions for 12 months, but it was requested to be amended after committee members saw what they felt were technical difficulties. A motion to send the bill to general orders, where it would be amended to 11 months, was passed in a 13-1 vote by the House state Affairs Committee.

Elections in November do not always happen on the same day. A restriction of 12 months could prevent ballot measures from being proposed for 15 months — until the next election in spring.

Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, made the motion to send HB 487 to the amendment order.

“I’m supportive of this concept but there are some technical issues that I think have been a raised,” Luker said. “One is the overlap of the 12 months.”

The committee’s only Democrat, Rep. Elaine Smith of Pocatello, opposed.

“It takes two thirds to pass a bond…. it means that a third of the people can stop, which is a minority…,” she said. “So, I have a difficult time with this because I do think that means that the minority could also have an affect with only one election every 12 months.”

Many who testified offered differing opinions on the merits of repeat ballot measures for public funding.

“We have presidential elections that are often decided on a margin of less than one percent. That doesn’t mean that we allow them to come back right afterwards because it’s contested,” said Phil Haunschild, Policy Researcher at the Idaho Freedom Foundation.

Jerry Mason, a lawyer for the Association of Idaho Cities, said repeat ballot measures are important to agencies.

“Subsequent elections often happen when already a substantial majority of the populous supports something. If the supermajority that’s required by law is not allowed to be achieved, we wind up with a minority deciding the question,” Mason said.

Mason further stated elections “should not be putting a thumb on the scale when the question is imposed.” But, under the current standard for supermajorities, he worries that the bill would do that.

“This proposal prefers a no vote. The election procedure should be even handed,” Mason urged. “The election would be precluded even when 66 and two thirds is needed, but 65 percent is achieved, a subsequent election would not be possible for another year.”

Others felt repeated elections on the measures are indicative of “aggressive” tax districts.

“I find it borderline criminal that a government, in this case aggressive taxing districts, can put the tax payers and voter’s livelihoods, the fruits of their labor, their property, in jeopardy not just twice, but as many times as they see fit until they get the result they desire,” said Michael Law, a board member of a taxing district in Kuna.

Kyle Pfannenstiel covers the 2018 Idaho Legislature for the University of Idaho McClure Center for Public Policy Research.

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