Senate Democrats organized a hearing at the statehouse this morning to give officials from cities, counties and schools another chance to publicly air their opposition to a property tax cut proposed by Republicans.

Senator Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat from Iowa City, used the term “corporate welfare” to describe the GOP plan to cut commercial and industrial property taxes by 25%.

“Thirty percent of commercial property taxpayers are out-of-state corporations,” Bolkcom said, reading from a prepared statement to open the hearing. “Why, for example, do Republicans insist on giving Walmart a huge tax break worth almost $4.5 million statewide? Will Walmart even notice? Will this corporate welfare create even one job in Iowa?”

Senator Jack Whitver, a Republican from Ankeny, blasted Democrats for the way the event was organized. 

“I was extremely disappointed to see that no individual taxpayer or small business owner will speak today about any of the proposed tax plans. The agenda appears to include only government officials,” Whitver said. “Though I’m here with an open mind, the agenda leads me to believe the discussion will be one-sided and lead to a predetermined conclusion.” 

Kurt Subra, chief financial officer for West Des Moines Schools, responded.

“I’m not here today for partisan reasons, just simply to inform, give some facts,” he said. “Having said that, I am a property taxpayer in Polk County and I do live in Senator Whitver’s area, so I feel like I do carry that perspective.”

Subra is past president of the Iowa Association of School Business Officials.

Mayors used words like “brutal” and “devastating” to describe the effect the Republican plan would have on city budgets, and warned residential property taxes would rise if commercial and industrial property taxes are cut dramatically. Ames Mayor Ann Campbell was among the three mayors who testified.

“We have gigantic conerns,” Campbell said. 

County officials like Polk County Supervisor Angela Connolly were equally pessimistic.

“I hope that we can find another solution,” Connolly said.

Others warned cities and counties might be forced to default of bonds if commercial and industrial property taxes are reduced by 25 percent over five years as House Republicans propose, or by 40 percent as Republican Governor Branstad proposes.

The dispute over how to cut property taxes may hold up the already-delayed adjournment of the 2011 legislative session. Senate Democrats have proposed a property tax credit that would be paid directly to the business owner.

Photo provided by Senate Democrats.