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The runup


Little noted, among the week’s more dramatic headlines, came word from the group Reclaim Idaho that it has collected and submitted enough signatures to reach this year’s general election ballot with its school tax proposal.

That piece of news, though not especially surprising in light of earlier progress reports, may reverberate in the months ahead.

Qualifying any issue for the ballot in Idaho is a daunting task. What you mostly need is petition signatures, which sounds like not too big a deal except that the numbers required are both large and onerous to obtain.

A candidate running for, say, the nomination of one of the two major parties for governor of Idaho can do that by filling out a form and either paying a $300 fee or submitting nominating petitions containing 1,000 valid signatures. Most candidates just pay the fee (though I would argue that getting the signatures, while more work, would be a better campaign tactic).

By comparison, someone trying to qualify an issue for the ballot has to get petition signatures from six percent of the registered voters in the state – about 65,000 names. And that’s not all: They also need at least six percent of the registered voters in each of more than half of the state’s 35 legislative districts. Few statewide candidates would ever think of running if they had to meet a requirement that high.

Not only that: If you have any sense (as Reclaim Idaho did) you know you should collect many more signatures than you theoretically need, because some of them may be declared invalid or otherwise thrown out. Reclaim Idaho, therefore, collected well more than 95,000 signatures.

There is an upside, though: If you actually do succeed in getting all those signatures, from such a widely catered collection of places, you’ve probably already done a lot of the ground work you need to do to pass your issue. You have contacted and energized much of your support base, and you have a tremendous list of people to call upon in building support and raising money when the actual ballot campaign comes around. And you’ve been forced to do that in not just a few places, but many places around the state, and you’ve heard politically relevant arguments, for and against, from a lot of people.

You’ve done your homework, and then some. You’re going into the fall campaign well prepared, probably much better prepared than your opposition.

Not many proposals have gotten to the ballot in recent years; another effort, on medical marijuana, recently fell short. But since just a simple majority is needed to actually pass a ballot measure (the same standard as for a candidate in a two-person race), the chances of passage become decent.

The most notable example was in 2018, with the proposal to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, an idea rejected with extreme prejudice by the Idaho Legislature, passed with a landslide 60.6 percent of the vote.

What will voters think of this new proposal?

Its goal is to raise more money to be spent on public schools. It would do that through a tax increase, which as Idaho Ed News described, involves “increasing the corporate income tax from 6% to 8% and by creating a new income tax bracket at 10.925% for individuals making more than $250,000 per year and families making more than $500,000 per year.”

The vast majority of Idaho taxpayers (read: voters) wouldn’t be touched personally by this, but the words “tax increase” ordinarily are toxic in Idaho politics, at the ballot as well as at the legislature. But not always. Plenty of local bond and supplemental levy issues pass each year, and the case could be made that fewer of them might be needed if this measure passes. It could be sold as a property tax assistance measure.

However the backers plan to market their measure, they now have a leg up.

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