The Iowa House has passed legislation that would have the state distribute the local option sales tax money for school constructions projects on a per pupil basis. Voters in each of Iowa’s 99 counties have approved a one-percent sales tax, but currently the money is distributed by county, based on retail sales within that county.
Representative Mike Reasoner, a Democrat from Creston, says the per pupil distribution formula outlined in the bill would ensure Iowa students get equal treatment. "The point of the bill is to help our kids around this state and it shouldn’t matter in what corner of our state, that there is equity in funding, that they have the ability to get a great Iowa education in a quality learning environment," Reasoner says.
Representative Bruce Hunter, a Democrat from Des Moines, says it’s a bad idea to finance school construction and renovation projects with sales taxes. "Sales tax really is the most regressive tax that we do have, so instead of looking for other options we’re going, again, go for the easiest fix on the (backs) of some of our poorest members," Hunter says.
The money could be used on school infrastructure projects as well as property tax relief and the bill calls for ending the sales tax on December 31st, 2029. Representative Cecil Dolecheck, a Republican from Mount Ayr, says it’s about equity. "This, ladies and gentlemen, is good for the students. It’s good for the State of Iowa and it is past time that we work on this," Dolecheck says.
Representative Richard Anderson, a Republican from Clarinda, says it’s the wrong approach. "I think economic development is the solution to this problem, not tax increases and not tax shifts. We can’t rely on taxation and moving it around as a means to solving our education problems," Anderson says. "We’ve got to find ways to recruit businesses to Iowa because businesses bring jobs and jobs bring families and families bring money to schools."
Representative Jeff Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton, says the idea is endorsed by all the school boards, city councils and even the local Republican Party in Cedar County. "And I can assure you one thing and my people don’t care if I’m talking to you as a Republican or a Democrat on this, this is why they sent me to Des Moines to try to dispel that stereotype that somehow people in a rural area should accept the inequities that we see in the state," Kaufmann says.
Other Republicans, like Representative Mike May of Spirit Lake, unsuccessfully argued the idea of a statewide sales tax for schools should be submitted to Iowans as a constitutional amendment that would implement the plan. "Voters never voted for a permanent tax. They never voted for that," May says. "They never voted for a tax that they couldn’t get rid of."
Representative Roger Wendt, a Democrat from Sioux City who’s a retired educator, says the proposal will work. "It is an aggressive effort to provide equity to districts that are kid rich and property poor," Wendt says.
Representative Kraig Paulsen, a Republican from Hiawatha, says most county voters who approved the local option sales taxes in the first place were only voting to collect the money for a decade, not for 20 years. "This bill’s about taking…We made a deal down here a couple of years ago and this bill is about a bait and switch," Paulsen says.
The bill passed, over those objections, on a 59 to 41 vote. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.