116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
DES MOINES — Majority Republican legislators have voted to punish communities that reduce law enforcement funding, but Senate Democrats warned Tuesday that defunding the police may well be the upshot of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ $400 million tax relief plan.
Eleven of the 13 largest cities in the state already are at their property tax rate cap of $8.10 per $1,000 of taxable valuation, said Sen. Herman Quirmbach, D-Ames. Eliminating the “backfill” lawmakers promised in 2013 as part of a property tax package could force them to raise taxes or cut services.
“I’m not going to support anything that raises property taxes. I’m not going to vote for anything that breaks promises. And I’m not going to vote for anything to defund the police,” Quirmbach told the Senate Ways and Means Committee.
The broken promise in the bill, now Senate File 619, is the promise Democrats and Republicans made when they passed a commercial and industrial property tax relief bill in 2013, Democrats said. The backfill was to compensate local governments for the loss of property tax revenue when commercial and industrial property tax rates were lowered as part of that bipartisan package in 2013.
“The Legislature does not have a good track record on keeping its promises, and the proof is in the bill itself,” said Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque.
In the same proposal that calls for reneging on that promise, Jochum said, legislators make another promise — to take over from counties the funding of mental health services “when we have yet to fund the children’s mental health system” approved four years ago.
Just as with the backfill, she said, there’s no guarantee that five years down the road, if state revenues don’t keep up, that lawmakers won’t renege on the promise to fund mental health services.
Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, downplayed the impact of phasing out the backfill over five to eight years. According to Department of Management data, cities received $52.5 million in backfill payments this year and counties got $29.5 million.
On average, the backfill amounted to 1.43 percent of city budgets and 1.2 percent of county budgets, Dawson said.
Democrats also questioned whether any female legislators were involved in negotiations between the House, the Senate and the governor’s office, suggesting that without their input gender equity issues in the tax code will not be addressed.
In particular, Sen. Janet Petersen, D-Des Moines, wondered if any legislator was lobbying for the removal of taxes on menstrual products, which Reynolds proposed in the past.
“There are a lot of women across our state who would like to see more gender equity in our tax code,” Petersen said. Proposals to remove the sales tax on period products and diapers for infants and adults have not moved out of either the House or Senate. “I believe if women were sitting at the table, we might see those moving forward.”
Dawson didn’t know if female legislators were involved because he doesn’t participate in every meeting, “but the Iowa governor, who is a woman, is part of all these negotiations. … She’s not playing second fiddle to the legislative process around here.”
Sen. Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, who chairs the Education Committee, said she and Sen. Chris Cournoyer, R-LeClaire, vice chair of the State Government Committee, have been involved in the negotiations.
“Solid, comprehensive, common-sense, lower tax policy is best for all people, whether they’re male or female, and to carve out women or men as better or worse in this tax conversation is just a silly thing,” Sinclair said.
SF 619, approved 9-5, was then approved by Senate Appropriations.
Both the Senate and House are adjourned until Thursday.
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