SANDPOINT — Idaho voters will get a chance to weigh in on Idaho constitutional amendments concerning funding for the University of Idaho and public airports, hospitals and electrical systems.
Three of the four amendments are aimed at skirting an Idaho Constitution prohibition against long-term indebtedness without voter approval. The amendments, however, forbid the use of tax dollars to defray the cost of capital improvements.
Voters will see the following proposed amendments when they cast ballots in the Nov. 2 general election:
• Idaho Tuition & Fees Amendment
This legislatively-referred amendment, known as Senate Joint Resolution 101, would repeal an 1890 provision which prohibits tuition from being charged at the University of Idaho in Moscow.
Currently, the university charges student fees to undergraduates, but not tuition. Student fees cannot be used to pay for classroom instruction, contrary to practices at all other state-supported Idaho colleges and universities.
Those in favor of the amendment contend it would level the playing field with other academic institutions in Idaho and the rates of tuition or fees would continue to rest with the state board of education.
Opponents point out that the university, the state’s only land-grant university, predates statehood and that framers of the Constitution envisioned a free education for U of I’s undergraduates. Foes also argue that constitutional amendments are for major issues of interest or crisis and contend the state can simply provide more funding for instruction at the university.
• Idaho Hospital Debt Amendment
This amendment, known as House Joint Resolution 4, filtered up through the Legislature and would allow public hospitals to purchase real properties, facilities and equipment through a variety of methods as long as they are paid for by charges, rents or payments derived from operations. The upgrades cannot be funded with property tax dollars.
Under the current rules, public hospitals have limited ability to incur debt without two-thirds voter approval.
Supporters of the amendment assert it would enable hospitals, which are mostly located in small towns or rural areas, to invest in new medical equipment that strengthens health care in Idaho. It would also allow hospitals to attract the best medical personnel and spur the economy by providing jobs.
Those pushing against the change say it will limit the right of voters to approve certain debt. They also assert that the matter is not pressing enough to warrant a constitutional amendment.
• Airport Facility Bond Amendment
This change, known HJR 5 would allow the issuance of revenue bonds to acquire and construct airport-related facilities without voter approval as long tax dollars aren’t used to repay the bonds.
Advocates of the amendment contend public airports should be readily allowed to construct facilities they need. They also maintain that the constitutional prohibition against long-term indebtedness without voter approval is stifling economic development and a hindrance to Idaho’s prosperity.
Critics of the change contend the two-thirds voter requirement is an important safeguard for citizens. The change could be applied to other political subdivisions and increase the amount of public property exempt from taxation.
• Municipal Electricity
Known has HJR 7, this two-part amendment would allow Idaho cities which own municipal electrical systems to issue revenue bonds to pay for infrastructure upgrades. Voter approval is required, although property tax dollars cannot be used to settle those debts.
The change would also allow cities to enter into agreements to purchase or share wholesale electricity without voter approval. Cities would be prohibited from using property tax revenue to cover indebtedness resulting from the agreements.
The amendment would help ensure residents have low-cost and stable electricity rates, according to supporters. Opponents, however, raise the two-thirds voter assent safeguard argument.