A bill that would send sales tax revenue to Iowa schools based on the number of students in each district is in peril. Local option sales taxes are collected in each of Iowa’s 99 counties for school infrastructure.
The bill’s backers argue it makes sense to have the state distribute that money on a per pupil basis to ensure rural schools don’t get shortchanged since they’re not near retail centers where most of the sales taxes are collected.
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs says only three Republicans in the Senate indicate they’ll back the bill. "We need bipartisan support because the revenues that come up with this system flow significantly into Republican districts and if they’re against it, Democrats aren’t going to carry the water to something that dramatically benefits rural Iowa and in particular Republican districts," Gronstal says.
Gronstal suggests at least five more Republicans in the Senate need to back the bill and he singles out bill opponent Senator Jeff Angelo of Creston for criticism. "First of all, Senator Angelo’s retiring (so) it’s not exactly a tough vote for him and Senator Angelo’s district probably gets more benefit out of this bill than any other," Gronstal says. "…I guess because he’s retiring, he no longer cares about the kids in his district."
Senator Angelo counters that voters in his district don’t trust that the money will always be used for school infrastructure and property tax relief, as promised. "If Senator Gronstal wants to accuse me about not caring about the kids in my district, I’d like to challenge him to name 10 kids in my district because I do know them and I do care about them," Angelo says.
Senate Republican Leader Ron Wieck of Sioux City says he’s not prepared to let the bill die, but Wieck says many Republicans want a constitutional amendment to ensure the money never gets diverted for other purposes, like teacher salaries. "I think that the attitude…could changed if there was constitutional protection of the money," Wieck says.
The bill already has cleared the Iowa House with 59 "yes" votes, 17 of which came from Republicans. The bill would establish a one percent sales tax for schools statewide, through 2029.