Earl Bennett

(candidate for 2004 Idaho State Representative, Position B)

1. Next summer, Idaho’s 6% sales tax is scheduled to revert to 5% and the recent additional cigarette tax is scheduled to be eliminated. Do you support or would you rescind those scheduled tax roll-backs?
When the legislature and the Governor increased the sales tax from 5 to 6%, the promise was that it would be rolled back to 5% in 2005. The 1% increase resulted in about $180 million in new revenue annually. Since January, 2004, the state economy has recovered somewhat and present tax revenues are ahead of projections. If this trend continues into next year, the sales tax may well be reduced back to 5% resulting in another barebones state budget in FY-2006. However, what the economy will do between now and next January is a big question and we will not know until the legislature is in session and the Revenue Projection Committee takes a hard look at anticipated state income for FY-06. At this time I believe there are three possible scenarios for the rollback; Reduce the 6% sales tax to 5%; Reduce the 6% sales tax to 5 1/2%; other schemes including a suggestion that I call, “The Idaho Education Recovery Act of 2005.” After discussions with the House leadership, I believe it will be very difficult to keep the 6% tax in place and it will require a major effort to retain even a ½ percent if tax receipts stay ahead of projections. This will be especially difficult if the past chair of the House Rev and Tax Committee retains her position. How I will support motions to keep the full or ½ tax increase will depend on what the economic climate looks like in January. However, if attempts to keep the full or half percent increase fail, I will sponsor the “Idaho Education Recovery Act of 2005” to retain the full 1% sales tax increase for 6 months (sunset at the end of the calendar year rather than the beginning of the fiscal year). This will generate about $90 million in funds that I will recommend be split along the lines of $30 million to rebuild the “rainy day” or cash reserve account, $30 million to K-12 for one-time expenditures and $30 million to Higher Ed for one-time expenditures. While certainly not a panacea for education’s fiscal problems, the extra money will help tide over K-12 and Higher Ed for FY-2006 and will be at least some increase in a year that could otherwise be very bleak. One other idea that I just heard about is to keep the 1% sales tax increase in place, but compensate with an equal reduction in property tax. I can hear the screams from county and city governments and the school districts already as, of course, the property tax is one of their key sources of funding.

2. The Idaho State Superintendent of Public Instruction has charged that the State Board of Education has recently expanded into areas of responsibility rightfully belonging to the Superintendent’s office. Do you agree? If so, what will you do about it?
I agree and proposed a resolution at the Republican Convention in Boise last June, to split the state board into two parts; one for Higher Ed and one for K-12 with a common chairperson. I believe that the issues in both K-12 and Higher Ed are now too numerous and complex for a single part-time board of citizens who may or may not have any expertise in either sector of education. Under my plan, there would be several joint meetings of the two parts of this committee each year. The common chair would insure ongoing communication between the committees throughout the year. This would increase the responsibility for the chair over what is now required. Hopefully, this scheme will avoid the problem of competition for funding and programs between two separate boards. The new Commission on Charter Schools reinforces the argument for two boards. If you need a new commission to oversee only 15 Charter Schools and a virtual academy or two, why should a single board be saddled with the responsibility for Higher Ed (7 universities and colleges) and K-12 (681 public schools) and their billion+ dollar budget.
The recent decision by the Idaho Supreme Court to throw out HB-403 will now force legislators to revisit providing state funds for K-12 school safety, new school construction and upgrading facilities, and the super majority needed to approve school levies. If a new revenue stream is not found to fund these issues, it could impact other state agencies including Higher Ed.

3. Do you think it is possible to increase state funding for the University of Idaho? Do you support an increase in state funding for the University of Idaho? If so, what specific measures will you support to fund that increase?
Would I support increased funding for the UI? Of course.
Will it happen? I doubt it.
And I’ll add a third question; “will there be a significant increase for Higher Ed funding in general?” Answer- Probably not under the present system of Higher Ed administration.
The current fiscal problems at UI are different than the usual issue with Higher Ed funding. The difficulties with University Place in Boise and other serious internal budget issues are not shared across Higher Ed. This is not to say that Boise State U and Idaho State U do not have money issues, they do, but nothing like UI. Our new Financial VP, Dr. Jay Kenton, noted that it will take up to 5 years to put UI on a sound financial footing.
Also, and to put it bluntly, UI has lost great face with the Idaho legislature. This past session there was no one to speak for our university except our delegation and Marty Peterson (thank heavens we have him in Boise). We must rebuild our image throughout Idaho and we must do a better job of informing the legislature of what is happening on our campus. And here I digress for a little campaigning. I know the UI very well having spent 30 years on our campus and having been involved in the administration of the institution for 8 years. I am also very familiar with how our state and federal governments work. I intend to be an unabashed champion for UI and to inform my colleagues in the House and Senate about important university news that they need to know (whether they want to hear it or not!). But back to the dollars, if the sales tax increase sunsets, my plan will at least provide about $30 million to Higher Ed for one-time funding (about $3-5 million to UI), which should help all our colleges and universities survive another lean year. I will also work with Rep. Tom Trail in examining the over $1-billion in sales/income tax exemptions for possible new revenues.

4. Would you support a state constitutional amendment to make same-gender marriages illegal?

5. How do you plan to use email, websites, or any other communication tools to inform district residents about state programs or to gather input from those residents?
The state legislature approved a modest amount of money in the last session to upgrade their computer system and I supported this measure. It happened while I was sitting in for Rep. Tom Trail for a week in March. Although a horrible year for state budgets I supported this bill because the system they have in place now can be effective for communicating with constituents via email and the web without overwhelming the individual legislator. The proposed upgrade will make this system even better. Sorting email requests and responses via bill number is now relatively easy and this insures that constituents get a prompt answer in an efficient manner. I will certainly use this system to our full advantage to communicate with all of you who wish to be on the list. An immense amount of data is now available on the web and helping constituents drill down to the right information is not a difficult task. For example, I have listed a lot of facts and figures about state government that may be of interest to voters in the coming election on my own website, For those who do not have specific questions/suggestions regarding separate bill, I will certainly follow Rep. Trail’s example of posting general legislative updates on my website. “Knowing your government” is now easier than ever and only requires the will (and time) to dig out the information you need.

6. Please include biographical information about yourself, email, phone, or website contact information, and any other message you want to share with Moscow voters.
For biographical information, please go to the website at Contact info is; Earl H. Bennett, P.O. Box 157, Genesee, ID, 83832, 208-285-1354, email

Other Issues.
Charter Schools- The 15 Charter Schools in Idaho have garnered more than their fair share of publicity in the past year. There are also about 2,000 students enrolled in the Idaho Virtual Academy another hot ticket in 2004 as was the issue of home schooling. On the other hand, there was little publicity about the 681 public schools in 114 districts in Idaho with a total enrollment of about 246,000 students and employing some 16,000 certified teachers and another 8,500 non-certified staff and employees. The numbers tell the story. As a scientist I am in favor of Charter Schools as experiments in improving education in general. However, Charter Schools will not be a panacea for the problems in K-12. Recent data compiled by the American Federation of Teachers indicate that learning progress may not be any better in Charters than in regular public schools. In any case, I believe these schools must be held accountable to at least the same standards as the traditional public schools and in my opinion should be supervised by the local superintendent and school board, not by another Governor appointed commission.

Moscow Pullman Aquifer- We are all concerned about the future viability of our groundwater. I cannot put more water into the Grande Ronde aquifer, but I will stir statewide awareness of the need for water conservation by proposing a tax break (similar to the energy credit on your income tax form) for water conservation measures.

Latah County Power I know that many of the Vision 20/20 participants chafe at the thought that the Idaho Legislature is so dominated by the Republican Party. As in the U.S. Congress, the majority party in Idaho controls the power via all of the committee chairmanships and floor leadership. For example the important Joint Finance Appropriations Committee (JFAC) has 16 Republican members and 4 Democrats and the Co-chairs and Vice Chairs are from the majority party. The Governor and all elected state officials except for the Superintendent of Schools, Marilyn Howard, are Republican. By pointing out the obvious, I am not trying to rub salt in a wound. I am sure that many of you would like to change this situation and eventually change will happen. However, based on some 30- years of dealing with Idaho politics, I know that change is slow-- make that very slow. We have pressing issues in our county that need to be addressed now, not in ten years. I understand the importance of being in leadership or being a committee chair and if I am elected, I will work hard towards this goal. The voters of Latah County deserve-- no, make that should demand no less. I want to bring the power and clout of leadership back home. So, should you vote for a moderate Republican just because the legislature is 80% Republican? Of course not, but if you agree with my viewpoints on the issues of this campaign, if my agenda makes sense, then it is a factor that you might want to consider when you go to the polls on November 2. I look forward to meeting many of you as the campaign unfolds.

Return to the Election page