April 23, 2014

End goal for property tax reform still unclear

The governor’s property tax reform plan got an initial airing at a statehouse hearing Wednesday afternoon. However, Representative Tom Sands, a Republican from Wapello, made clear a slightly different plan from House Republicans is also under serious consideration.

“Right now I would say my intent is to be an illegal ball carrier on a football team and I am going to carry two balls down the field and we will see where we end up with those two balls,” Sands said, and the crowd in the committee room started laughing, as did Sands. “May be a poor analogy, but I was talking football, remember,” Sands added, drawing more laughter.

Governor Branstad has been pushing to reduce commercial property taxes for the past two years. This year the governor is trying to tamp down criticism from cities by promising the state will give cities state tax dollars to replace lost commercial property tax revenue. Democrats like Representative Jo Oldson of Des Moines did not immediately reject the governor’s plan.

“At this point, it’s so uncertain to us and pretty gray, I think most of us are probably going to look forward to hearing comments from the public and getting some sense of the effect,” Oldson said.

The Iowa League of Cities is again opposed to the plan. The Iowa Chamber Alliance, a backer of last year’s proposal, backs this year’s adjusted version, too. John Stineman is a spokesman for the alliance, which represents the 16 largest chambers of commerce in the state.

“This feels like a familiar meeting,” Stineman told legislators. “…This is now the third session in a row where we’ve had a strong attempt to try to reform Iowa’s commercial and industrial property taxes.”

Yet previous attempts have failed, partly because Democrats favor a new tax credit geared to Iowa-based business property owners while Republicans want to permanently reduce property tax rates for all commercial and industrial property owners. Two more House subcommittee meetings are scheduled to solicit public comments on property tax reform.