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SHERIDAN — Local legislators view tax increases as a last resort to solving the education funding shortfall the state currently faces.
The only education bill remaining that proposes tax increases for that purpose is House Bill 236. The bill, currently being reviewed by the Senate Education Committee, moves $100 million annually from the rainy day account to the school foundation account and includes a 0.5 percent sales tax increase if the rainy day account dips below $500 million.
The bill also proposes cost-saving measures such as freezing special education and transportation funding.
The House Education Committee previously tacked a 2 percent sales tax increase to the bill, but legislators in the House shot down the amendment earlier this month.
Rep. Mark Kinner, R-Sheridan, is one of the sponsors of the bill as a member of the House Education Committee.
He stated that the committee proposed the 0.5 percent sales tax increase as an insurance policy to generate revenue for schools in a worst-case scenario.
“We didn’t feel like we could cut our way out of the whole issue,” Kinner said. “So, we looked at a revenue piece, and the way we looked at it like an insurance policy. If we are spending our savings, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t take our savings down to zero.”
Sen. Dave Kinskey, R-Sheridan, said he will oppose all tax increases. Instead, he said, schools need to tighten their belts. He added that the state needs to dip into the rainy day account before tax increases can be considered.
Kinskey said for the state to tax their way out of the education budget problem, it would take an approximately 4 percent increase in sales tax and/or increases in property taxes.
“I am against that kind of a jump, and I think the public is against that kind of a jump,” Kinskey said. “There is just no choice — all government is in a tight spot.
“The fact of the matter is until we’ve done everything we can to slow and reverse the size of government, we shouldn’t consider raising taxes,” he added.
The Senate Education Committee examined HB236 Wednesday, but took no action on the matter.
Kinner said he doesn’t believe the tax increase portion of HB236 will survive. With many legislators opposed to tax increases of any kind, he said any proposal to raise taxes would likely be eliminated in the Senate.
Instead, Kinner said, the House and Senate will likely find a way to merge two education bills. The Senate’s education budget bill proposes a $91 million reduction to the state’s education budget, or a 5 percent reduction for individual school districts by the 2019-20 school year.
After Thursday, only nine more days remain for legislators to come to an agreement on an education budget bill. Lawmakers will have Friday and Monday off for the holiday weekend. Kinner said legislators fully intend to finalize a budget bill by the end of this session.
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