Initiative backers call it quits on education ballot drive

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — An Idaho group that had been collecting online signatures for an education initiative called off the effort on Thursday following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling against them late last month.

The court case remains alive, but it’s back at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and not likely to wrap up with enough time left to get the initiative on the ballot.

Reclaim Idaho contended it should be allowed to collect online signatures during the coronavirus pandemic. The initiative would have raised $170 million for K-12 education by raising taxes on corporations and individuals making $250,000 or more annually.

“This is an initiative that promised to save Idaho from deep cuts to the K-12 budget, and it’s an initiative that the vast majority of Idahoans support,” said Luke Mayville, co-founder of Reclaim Idaho, in a statement Thursday.

The group backs initiatives and successfully got Medicaid expansion on the ballot several years ago that ultimately became law.

Reclaim Idaho in the lawsuit filed in June said Republican Gov. Brad Little’s statewide stay-at-home order in late March because of the pandemic didn’t include exceptions for ballot initiative signature-gathering. The group said that violated the First Amendment-protected process of signature gathering, a form of political speech.

Idaho does not allow online signatures for ballot initiatives. The state argued in court documents that allowing such signatures undermines the election process.

Reclaim Idaho won in U.S. District Court and the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, allowing online signature gathering. But the U.S. Supreme Court sided with Little, putting online signature gathering on hold and sending the case back to the appeals court to be decided on its merits.

Even if Reclaim Idaho were to win, the case could be drawn out with appeals back to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Little earlier this year cut education spending by just under $100 million due to the pandemic and fears of a budget shortfall. Little recently asked for donated laptops for students so they could participate in online learning.

Idaho Business for Education, which is spearheading that effort, collected some 1,300 laptops earlier this month. The group's overall goal is to help students get college degrees and be prepared to enter the workforce.

Idaho Business for Education contains businesses that would have likely seen a bump in taxes had the education funding initiative made it to voters and passed.