Election Central

Mitchell blames Risch for Idaho’s ‘race to the bottom’ on K-12 funding

Democrat Nels Mitchell says then-Gov. Jim Risch‘s 2006 law shifting hundreds of millions in school funding from local property taxes to the state general fund was a “disastrous scheme” for which he should apologize.

Risch replied that he’s proud of cutting property taxes by 20 percent and that Mitchell “should have done his homework before launching this deceptive attack.”

Mitchell’s complaint was also raised in 2008 when Republican Risch won his first U.S. Senate term over Democrat Larry LaRocco, who got 34 percent of the vote to Risch’s 57 percent. Mitchell is the likely Democratic nominee seeking to deny Risch a second six-year term in November. Both men are Boise lawyers.

Risch spent seven months as governor in 2006, succeeding Gov. Dirk Kempthorne when Kempthorne became U.S. secretary of Interior. Risch called a special session of the Legislature on Aug. 25, 2006, to consider a single bill, which removed the 0.03 percent property tax levy funding school operations and maintenance. Democrats opposed the bill, but Republicans backed Risch and passed the measure in a single day.

In a November 2006 advisory vote, 72 percent of voters affirmed the Risch tax shift.

The state promised to replace the property tax funds with sales and income tax revenues, but during the economic downturn that began in 2008 lawmakers cut K-12 spending. The fiscal 2015 K-12 budget pending in the Legislature is still smaller than the fiscal 2009 budget. Idaho ranks 50th among the 50 states and District of Columbia for per pupil spending, ahead of Utah.

A news release from Mitchell and a reply from the Risch campaign follows:

Mitchell’s release:


BOISE — As the Idaho Legislature struggles to set education funding, U.S. Senate candidate Nels Mitchell says Idahoans would do well to remember the root cause of today’s misery at the Statehouse, in our classrooms, and at the polls as voters face override levies.

“During his seven months as fill-in governor, Jim Risch did more damage to Idaho’s public schools than all of the legislature’s inadequate budgets put together,” Mitchell said today.  “He started the ‘race to the bottom’ in our schools, and he owes an apology to the people of Idaho.”

“In 2006, Risch sold the legislature on a wrong-headed plan to swap public schools’ property tax funding for an increase in the sales tax,” Mitchell said.  “He promised us schools wouldn’t lose money. The fact is, they lost big — $50 million in one fell swoop, and that was just the beginning.”

“Jim Risch pulled the rug out from under our children’s schools and started a decline that has sent Idaho’s support for education to the absolute bottom of the barrel – 50th in the nation.” Mitchell said.

Mitchell said Risch’s scheme raised the sales tax by a penny, which impacted all Idaho families, while the concurrent property tax cut mostly benefited big corporations, wealthy Idahoans and out-of-state landowners.  They got hefty breaks while Idaho families paid more in sales tax and often more in property tax as well because of override levies.

This year, 94 school districts are relying on override levies.  “Those taxpayers can thank Jim Risch,” Mitchell said.

“Risch claimed he wouldn’t benefit personally from the shift, and even said he’d drop out if he did,” Mitchell said.  “Today I challenge him to tell the public exactly how much he’s saved.”

Mitchell said the state’s media has called Risch out on the disastrous effects of his governorship on Idaho’s school children.

“Educational funding is broken in Idaho,” the Twin Falls Times News editorialized on January 12, “and students, teachers and taxpayers are all getting railroaded.”  The paper called Risch’s tax shift “wrong-headed” and “unsound,” and said it has made supplemental levies “an annual backdoor tax.”

On October 2, 2013, the Idaho State Journal wrote of the tax shift that Risch sold to lawmakers, “Idahoans can look back on a single-day session of the Idaho Legislature held to forever change the way public education (is) funded in this state.”  “At the end of the day,” the paper said, “the tax breaks . . . went to Idaho’s largest landowners.  Idaho’s public education system . . . went begging.”

“The future of our state lies in our public education system,” Mitchell said.  “I challenge Mr. Risch to not only tell Idahoans how much he has saved, but also to apologize for his disastrous scheme.”

The reply from the Risch campaign:

Mitchell should have done his homework before launching this deceptive attack.  Senator Risch is proud of his accomplishment of reducing Idahoan’s property taxes by 20%.  His efforts were accomplished with the cooperation and consent of Idaho’s legislature, where two-thirds overwhelmingly supported his tax relief plan.  Senator Risch then placed the issue before all of Idaho’s citizens who approved it by 72%, another overwhelming sign of Idahoan’s approval.

If the Senator’s opponent had been in Idaho during the last Senate election he would know that this exact same issue was raised by his then opponent, Larry Larocco, who made this same issue a centerpiece of his campaign asking voters to punish the Senator for providing tax relief.  Larocco was soundly defeated by 24 points.  Had Mr. Mitchell been in Idaho he would know that due to Lorocco’s deceptive allegations Sen. Risch’s property taxes were independently researched by the media and the allegations were proven false.

The fact that Mr. Mitchell is attempting to raise this tax relief issue long after it was debated and ratified by 72% of Idahoans is indicative of why Idahoans need Senator Risch representing them; not someone who has spent his entire adult life living and working in California.  Senator Risch was here, in Idaho, achieving real tax relief for all of Idaho’s citizens.



Dan Popkey came to Idaho in 1984 to work as a police reporter. Since 1987, he has covered politics and has reported on 25 sessions of the Legislature. Dan has a bachelor's in political science from Santa Clara University and a master's in journalism from Columbia University. He was a Congressional Fellow of the American Political Science Association and a Journalism Fellow at the University of Michigan. A former page in the U.S. House of Representatives, he graduated Capitol Page High School in 1976. In 2007, he led the Statesman’s coverage of the Sen. Larry Craig sex scandal, which was one of three Pulitzer Prize finalists in breaking news. In 2003, he won the Ted M. Natt First Amendment award from the Pacific Northwest Newspaper Association for coverage of University Place, the University of Idaho’s troubled real estate development in Boise. Dan helped start the community reading project "Big Read." He has two children in college and lives on the Boise Bench with an old gray cat.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Election Central, Idaho Politics