Governor Chet Culver says he’s open to the idea of letting schools use local sales tax revenue to pay for teacher salaries.
"If we can work on this in a bipartisan way and get some consensus I’m confident we can use this as a vehicle to address a lot of different needs and that might be one of them," Culver says.
Voters in each of Iowa’s 99 counties have established a one-cent local option sales tax over a decade to be used for school infrastructure.
Legislators in Des Moines are considering whether to make that penny sales tax permanent statewide and Culver says he’s willing to look at all options. "You know my goal, if you will, is to make sure we’re giving equal educational opportunities to young people regardless of where they live," Culver says. "That fact is we do have some concerns."
Some lawmakers argue the local sales tax money should be used for more school expenses than just bricks and mortar and Culver concedes there are "a lot of competing ideas" out there for how to use the money. "The other complicating factor is you have counties like Johnson County, for example, that just passed this and they’ve already kind of planned on how they want to use it and they’ve budgeted and this could have an impact on those plans," Culver says. "…I still think it’s possible that we could arrive at some consensus before the end of the session."
School buildings and facilities are mainly financed by local property taxes. It means districts that have a higher proportion of higher income residents, like growing suburban districts, are better able to pay for building construction and repair as compared to so-called "property poor" districts with a high percentage of low income residents who live in modest or cheap housing.