[Vision2020] [Bulk] Re: Weitz Lawsuit: A Challenge

Jeff Harkins jeffh at moscow.com
Sun May 13 10:24:00 PDT 2007

The Weitz/MSD lawsuit raises a plethora of issues 
about taxpayer funding of public interests.  At 
the core of the lawsuit appears to be the issue 
of whether or not the school levy process was in 
conformity with Idaho legal protocol.  Because 
"public education" is important to most of us in 
the MSD, it is critical that there be no 
ambiguity or uncertainties about the "legality 
and integrity" of the levy event.  Unfortunately, 
it appears that some individuals have concerns 
about just that.  Consequently a legal assessment (via a lawsuit) is underway.

As this involves decisions of legally elected 
public officials (school board members), the use 
of non-elected citizens to arbitrate the issue is 
inexplicable (the Swanson proposal).  No two 
non-elected citizens (albeit that they are both 
individually involved in the matter - Weitz and 
Donacht) are in a position to represent the vast 
interests of the array of stakeholders evident in this matter.

Properly so, this is a matter for our courts.

As community members ponder this event, here are 
some things that might be useful to consider:

Permanent levies (levies in perpetuity) are a 
"bad" way of funding public expenditures.  The 
most egregious decision a current generation can 
make regarding public programs is to deny future 
generations the choice of how their tax dollars 
are spent.  Referred to as a problem of 
"inter-generational equity"and stated in simple 
terms, current generations should not encumber 
the ability of future generations to invest their 
public resources in those programs deemed 
essential by those future generations.  Permanent 
levies have the potential to do just that.  The 
reason we use "balanced budget" systems in state 
and local government is to provide reasonable 
assurance that the current generation "pays its 
way".  Perhaps the Weitz/MSD lawsuit will give us 
reason to reflect on the "permanent levy" 
approach.  We can probably achieve greater public 
accountability for school district resources if 
there is some reasonable limit to the life of a 
levy - say three years or four years.  Returning 
to the taxpayers to reaffirm their tax investment 
is an effective means of accountability.

One of the things that concerned me about the 
recent levy election was the lack of a detailed 
spending plan for the additional supplemental 
funding request.  Future levy requests should be 
required to have a complete line-item level of 
detail to support the additional funding request.

This is a particularly volatile period for public 
education.  New technologies and new educational 
processes are working their way through 
educational systems.  We want to be sure that we 
leave adequate room for future generations to 
have flexibility in design and delivery of public education.

In Latah County, as in most jurisdictions,  we 
have limited public resources to invest in what 
at times like seems like unlimited public 
projects - sort of like the diamond appetite on a 
zirconium budget.  The school district wants or 
needs a new high school, or junior high; the 
county wants or needs new facilities (law 
enforcement center, county hall, fair grounds); 
citizens want or need new parks and playgrounds; 
citizens want or need a permanent location of the 
ice rink; county residents want or need road 
improvements; Moscow wants or needs to address 
the issue of water distribution; some Moscow 
citizens would like to have their streets paved; 
and so on ............. It is time that we assess 
carefully our public needs and prioritize our 
preferences.  Allowing our public institutions to 
gain additional resources by simply being the 
first to the trough does not serve the public interest.

As our property tax rates are once again at the 
highest levels of Idaho Counties, it is incumbent 
upon us to reflect on our priorities - and the 
proper expenditure of our limited public 
resources.  If some of our citizens are correct 
in their assessment that we have reached our 
sustainability limits (e.g. water, quality of 
life), then we must be extraordinarily judicious 
in our commitments of tax dollars to public 
projects.  For example, if we are at our 
sustainability limits, the public school census 
has probably peaked.  Fiscal austerity would 
suggest that we impose significant fiscal 
restraint in funding public programs.  If there 
is a prospect for future economic development, 
the sooner our community explores the 
possibilities and moves forward with them, the 
sooner we can begin to take advantage of a 
growing tax base and move forward the many public 
projects that we want to have.

Weitz is to be commended, not vilified, for 
taking the first steps necessary for us to engage 
in serious dialogue about our public 
infrastructure investments - and to place the 
responsibility for those investments where it belongs - with the taxpayers.

At 07:40 AM 5/13/2007, you wrote:

>JFord asks:
> > What about asking for a "judicial opinion" or 
> judicial review" of the facts
> > as presented by the interested parties? Does Idaho have such an option or
> > would a judge(s) be willing to do this? How about the AG looking at the
> > "facts" and issuing an opinion? If those come back negatively opinoned,
> > wouldn't that at least be a "warning" to other potential filers?
>The Weitz lawsuit is styled as one seeking a 
>"declaratory judgment and injunctive 
>relief."Â  The declaratory judgment portion of 
>the lawsuit asks the judge to do precisely what 
>you suggest.  That is what is happening.Â
>One may seek an opinion on the merits of an 
>issue of Idaho law from the Attorney General, 
>but this is only "authority" in support of 
>whatever position the A.G. decides is the 
>correct outcome under! the law, and not 
>"precedent."Â  A judge, and the ultimate 
>arbiters of state law questions, the Idaho 
>Supreme Court, would be free to decide this case 
>differently from the opinon issued by the 
>Attorney General, and the court system's answer would be the final say.
>As authority but not precedent, an Attorney 
>General opinion will suggest an answer but it 
>could be "wrong" in the eyes of a later 
>reviewing judge.  I suppose an A.G. Opinion 
>could "warn" of a probable outcome, but it will 
>not carry any weight in terms of forcing those, 
>who might bring a lawsuit that suggests an 
>answer different from the A.G. Opinion, to face 
>any additional consequences for doing so than 
>already exists under existing law.Â
>I suppose the upshot of this is that the 
>declaratory judgment action is designed to get 
>to an official statement of what the law 
>is.  An A.G. Opinion or Idaho Tax Commission 
>ruling will merely suggest what the law possibly/probably i! s.Â
>BJ Swanson has suggested that the parties 
>mediate and agree to abide by the answers 
>suggested by the Attorney General and the Idaho 
>Tax Commission.  As I think about this, a 
>potential problem arises, one raised by Gary 
>Crabtree and Sue Hovey already, i.e., the lack 
>of binding effect on non-parties.  Entering 
>into such an agreement would bind the MSD and 
>Dr. Weitz from contesting the decisions of the 
>government agencies, but other concerned 
>citizens could still contest the validity or 
>invalidity of the outcome reached in the proposed mediation decision.
>Until thinking the process through in writing 
>this answer, I had been initially receptive to 
>BJ Swanson's mediation suggestion, but the lack 
>of a decisive answer that could come from 
>mediation gives me pause.  On the other hand, a 
>year (or three or five) of operating the Moscow 
>Schools without the significant portion of the 
>money (a fifth, a quarter, a third?) that is 
>provided by the indefinite, per! manent 
>supplemental levy, will be so harmful to our 
>children, schools, and this town as a whole  
>that I hate to contemplate it. What alternatives do others see?
>Moscow's attractiveness to business and 
>prospects for growth with people that value and 
>support public schools would seem to be damaged 
>significantly in the near term by this 
>lawsuit.  I think that Dr. Weitz is hoping, 
>somehow, to help the schools in the long run 
>with his lawsuit by forcing a re-vote 
>ultimately of money for the schools and hoping 
>to see money allocated for his pet 
>projects.  However, it seems unlikely to me 
>that there is much hope for that prospect to 
>amount to much for a very long time, no matter 
>how favorable the outcome from Dr. Weitz's 
>perspective, given the short term damage.Â
>That is why I think his approach was misguided 
>and unhelpful, no matter how much I support Dr. 
>Weitz's desire to increase professional 
>technical education ("PTE") offerings for our ! 
>children in the Moscow public schools.  I fear 
>the backlash against his approach will damage 
>the long-term prospects for needed PTE offerings 
>in which the Moscow schools indisputably are 
>lacking.  (Assuming that Dr.Weitz's lawsuit had 
>not been filed, I note that some new PTE 
>programs that came out of November's MCA forum 
>were being put into place at the alternative 
>school.  I hope that still happens.  Those 
>courses need to be made available to the kids 
>at the high school, too, and not be stigmatized 
>as "just" alternative school offerings, but I am 
>willing to get there with smaller steps that 
>will allow some experimentation and time to 
>establish a track record of success.)
>I fear that the only folks unharmed by this 
>lawsuit are those to whom the public schools are 
>unimportant, because the the lawsuit will not 
>damage their thoughts about whether Moscow is a 
>good place to live or establish a 
>business.  For the rest of us, the day this 
>lawsuit w! as filed remains a dark day.Â
>Bruce Livingston
>  List services made available by First Step Internet,
>  serving the communities of the Palouse since 1994.
>                http://www.fsr.net
>           mailto:Vision2020 at moscow.com
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