The Iowa House has sent the governor a bill that would let Cedar Rapids and other communities hit by last year’s natural disasters put a local option sales tax plan on the ballot in March.  Counties already have the authority to let voters approve a one-percent local option sales tax, but Linn County officials missed a deadline for presenting the issue to voters early in 2009, so the bill speeds up the process, allowing the tax to be collected as of April 1st, if voters approve.

Representative Charles Isenhart, a Democrat from Dubuque, says the cities and towns hurt by floods and tornadoes need this tool to turn around. "One of the things that often happens when you become a victim of flood or other things is a sense of powerlessness," Isenhart says.  "This will put power into the hands of local folks to help themselves."

Governor Chet Culver, a Democrat, is expected to sign the bill.  Democrats in the legislature supported it, but nearly every Republican voted against it.  House Republican Leader Kraig Paulsen of Hiawatha, which is in Linn County, voted no.  "We could have made this a better bill," Paulsen says,.  "…It was originalyl drafted with the idea…that it would be directly related to disaster relief."

Under existing law, the largest city in a county must agree to a local option sales tax election before any smaller cities in a county can.  The Cedar Rapids City Council  plans to call a special meeting to consider calling an election.  Pending Cedar Rapids approval, city councils in Hiawatha and Marion have both approved putting it on the ballot.  In Johnson County, Iowa City will consider scheduling a vote a little later, on May 5th.