Supporters and opponents squared off at the statehouse today over controversial legislation to enact a new statewide sales tax for schools. Voters in each of Iowa’s 99 counties already have approved the special local option penny sales tax for school infrastructure. But the bill would replace that with a state sales tax and distribute the money more equally to schools.
Margaret Buckton of the Iowa Association of School Boards says schools need a more reliable source of funding for their infrastructure needs. “It’s quality working conditions for our employees as well as facilities that are designed for student learning,” Buckton says. “Things like science labs, and laptops — all of that is part of what it takes to deliver a great instructional system to our kids.”
Buckton says schools envision a host of uses for a statewide penny in sales tax used to finance school infrastructure needs. “To both upgrade, repair and build facilities,” Buckton says. “To make sure we have things like air conditioning so we don’t have to dismiss school on hot days, to make sure we have energy-efficient buses.” Schools could use the funds for property tax relief, too. But Iowa’s business community has its doubts.
Dave Roederer of the Iowa Chamber Alliance wonders if the new tax, in time, would get diverted to other budget needs just as the Iowa Lottery’s profits did. “It was to be used, 100 percent, for economic growth. That lasted a couple of years,” Roederer says. “Then we decided the money was to be devoted to natural resources and the environment. That lasted until we couldn’t balance the (state) budget and then the money went to balancing the budget.”
Roederer says counties approved their local option taxes — with the promise they could vote again in ten years and the new state tax takes that option away. “We never said anything to the public, that we may move the ball on you…that this was going to go on for eternity,” Roederer says. The business community also opposes a separate part of the bill which raises the motor vehicle use tax by one cent to raise new money for roads. The House Education Committee is expected to debate the bill soon.