The idea of distributing school construction money based on how many students are enrolled in a school district failed to make it through the 2007 Iowa Legislative session. Voters in each of Iowa’s 99 counties have approved a local option sales tax to finance local school construction and the idea was to funnel all that money to the state and have the state evenly distribute it so some schools , in wealthier areas with lots of retail businesses, didn’t get the lion’s share of school construction money.
Margaret Buckton of the Iowa Association of School Boards says it’s a matter of fairness for rural districts that have few retail businesses in their county. "As a taxpayer, you’re going to spend your money in the urban center and you’re paying the tax either way," Buckton says. "What this gets is some true equity so it doesn’t matter where you live or where you shop, every student will have the backing of enough money to have a quality facility."
But critics like Ed Failor, Senior, of Iowans for Tax Relief says the plan was flawed because those local option sales taxes are resubmitted to voters every 10 years — giving voters a chance to get rid of the tax. The statewide one-penny of sales tax would have become permanent.
"It’s a good thing for Iowans they didn’t do it," Failor says. "It would have taken money away from businesses in the state, people in the state, and would be hurting our economy." But the current method of financing school building repair and construction is under fire. Sioux City School officials have threatened to sue the state, charging the current system of distributing school funding is unfair.
House Republican Leader Christopher Rants of Sioux City says his district is "property poor" and that creates a problem because property taxes are the primary component of local school funding. "It’s not fair to the kids. We can’t provide the same opportunities in property poor districts like ours like others can," Rants says. "This legislature has turned a blind eye to that." Rants did control the House debate agenda for the past seven years.
The man who controlled Senate’s debate agenda this year, Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal of Council Bluffs, says property tax reform in general is on the "unfinished business" list for legislators. "I think we’re all a little disappointed we could find consensus on property taxes," Gronstal says. "…That is a vexing problem."