The 2012 Iowa legislative session begins today, with leaders from both political parties suggesting lawmakers may be close to compromise on an issue legislators failed to resolve last year.
Legislators and the governor say the current system unfairly taxes commercial property at 100 percent of its value, while residential property and farmland are taxed at much lower rates. House Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer says Republicans are aiming for “significant and consequential” property tax relief for all classes of property.
“We had those conversations last year,” Upmeyer says. “…It’s certainly my hope that we can get that achieved this year.”
Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal is expressing similar sentiments.
“We continue to be hopeful that we can reach common ground on that issue,” Gronstal says.
However, Gronstal says the plan Democrats in the Senate intend to pursue is not for all commercial property owners, as Republicans are aiming for, but instead targets small- and medium-sized businesses.
Kevin McCarthy, the leader of House Democrats, says in the past several years a deal has always collapsed because of objections from some quarter, like the cities and counties that would lose property tax revenue.
“But this year the local governments are kind of recognizing now, particularly for small businesses, that taxing commercial property tax at 100 percent of valuation is not really competitive,” McCarthy says. “There’s a willingness to be sympathetic to that.”
In 2005, Governor Vilsack appointed a bipartisan task force to come up with changes for the state’s property tax system and in 2007 a similar group assembled by Governor Culver issued recommendations, but nothing came of either effort.
Upmeyer and McCarthy made their comments during a weekend appearance on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program.
The 2011 Iowa Legislative session began last January and concluded more than six months later — on the last day of June — making it the third-longest session in history. Legislative leaders from both political parties are predicting a much shorter time frame for 2012.
“May and June are not on my legislative calendar,” Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal said during a statehouse news conference last week.
House Democratic Leader Kevin McCarthy suggests the experience of 2011 may be a benefit.
“I think people figured out last year how to reach compromise at the end,” McCarthy said on IPTV.
Most legislators intend to seek reelection, but they’re running in new districts that were redrawn last year based on the 2010 Census data. That means those legislators are anxious to spend time meeting voters in their new districts rather than at the statehouse. At stake is which party controls the legislature’s debate agenda. Republican Leader Linda Upmeyer is in the House, where Republicans currently hold a 20-seat majority. She sees a benefit from having the Republican presidential campaign start in Iowa.
“We see that energy reflected in people in the communities, people engaging and stepping up, wanting to participate, wanting to run for office,” she said on IPTV.
The House Democratic Leader said mayors, county supervisors and other locally-known people have agreed to run for open House seats.
“We have the best recruiting class I’ve ever seen,” McCarthy said Friday morning. “In fact, it’s getting better. We may be announcing somebody in the next 24, 48 hours.”
No announcement was made over the weekend, however.
The stakes are even higher in the Iowa Senate where Democrats hold a 26-to-24 seat edge. The 24 Republicans in the senate elected a new leader in early November and Senate GOP Leader Jerry Behn is now under pressure to regain a Republican majority in the Senate. Republicans already had recruited a candidate to challenge Senate Democratic Leader Mike Gronstal in his Council Bluffs district.