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Education funding tax initiative appears on track to make Idaho's November ballot

If voters approve the initiative, a new tax on the highest incomes would raise millions for Idaho schools.

BOISE, Idaho — From Teton County's Spud Drive-in to the Boise Depot to the flea market under the freeway in Wallace, volunteers for Reclaim Idaho have worked for months gathering signatures around the Gem State for their "Quality Education Act" initiative.

“Well we've collected nearly 88,000 signatures now,” said Luke Mayville, Co-Founder of Reclaim Idaho.

Reclaim Idaho is the same group that got Medicaid expansion on the ballot a few years back, now they are focused on education. So, what would Idahoans be voting on if the initiative qualifies for the November ballot?

It would be a question, yes or no, do you want to change the individual tax rate so that any individual making more than $250,000 annually would have every dollar earned over $250,000 taxed at a 10.925-percent rate? 

Right now, Idaho's top state income tax rate is 6 percent. The same 10.925-percent tax bracket would be created for married couples earning more than $500,000 annually. The act would also increase the state's corporate tax rate from 6% up to 8%.

Mayville says heading into the final days of their signature campaign, they feel good about their progress. As Mayville mentioned, the group has close to 90,000 signatures -- way more than the 65,000 needed to qualify. However, he explains, many signatures in campaigns like these end up getting tossed out.

“Sometimes campaigns will end up having about half of their signatures invalid because the person who signed, signed at the wrong address, or they weren't registered to vote, or their name wasn't legible,” Mayville said.

So for Reclaim Idaho, the more signatures the better. As that campaign continues, Mayville says they’ve now met the other requirement needed to qualify for the ballot.

“We also cleared the major hurdle of collecting the signatures we need from 18 different legislative districts,” Mayville said.

In Idaho, campaigns like this need signatures from at least 6 percent of registered voters in at least 18 legislative districts. So, volunteers have been pounding the pavement and ringing doorbells since last summer.

“We get to a lot of doors, tons of doors, but a lot of people are home and a lot of people don't answer. When we do get people to their doors and have a conversation, almost all of them sign,” said Sam Sandmire, a volunteer with Reclaim Idaho.

Sandmire said their team has had a lot of great conversations with people from all sides of the political spectrum while knocking on doors across the state. That, of course, comes with people who aren’t sure about the idea.

“They're concerned about curriculum or things like that. We just say this initiative has nothing to do with curriculum or what is taught; it has to do with providing our kids with certified teachers who are trained and able to able to teach their kids,” Sandmire said.

Mayville and Sandmire say their conversations with Idahoans center on an elephant-in-the-room statistic about Idaho.

“Idaho is dead last out of 50 states in per-student funding. Most Idaho voters find that humiliating, and they also understand that it's really hurting our kids,” Mayville said.

According to a 2021 report by the National Education Association, Idaho ranks last in per-student funding.

Their goal until the end of the month is this: quickly get as many signatures as possible.

“We're people who believe that every child in Idaho deserves a quality education. We don't think we're anywhere close to that right now. And we want to give the voters of Idaho a chance to give our kids something closer to the quality education they deserve,” Mayville said.

If it makes the ballot, the Quality Education Act would need a simple majority -- 50 percent plus one vote -- to become law.

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