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Iowans want property tax limits
Republicans who control the Iowa House and Senate are considering two different property tax bills. Although we understand the sticker shock experienced by Iowans as they received new, dramatically higher property assessments, we’re also skeptical any time the Legislature takes aim at local government.
Over the past several years, Republicans have often moved to grab power for the state at the expense of cities, counties, school districts and their constituents.
A bill that cleared the Senate this week would cap property tax levy growth broadly through a formula, while consolidating a number to tax levies. Some levies for specific uses would remain uncapped, and the Senate bill would raise the ceiling on purchases that would need to be put to a vote of residents.
The Senate measure would eliminates the Public Education and Recreation Levy assessed by some school districts for new playgrounds and equipment. Senators would expand the tax credits available to people over 65 and veterans.
A House bill would cap property tax increases at 3 percent for residential properties and 8 percent for commercial property, regardless of increases in assessments. The caps would provide exceptions for new construction and renovations.
The House bill also would lower the current $5.40 public school levy to $4.40 per $1,000 of assessed value, while providing $200 million in state school funding to make up the gap. The House bill also would require schools to hold bond referendums for building projects during even-numbered year general elections.
We believe Iowa voters want limited tax increases and more transparency and predictability when it comes to property taxes. Both bills attempt to address those concerns. Although we’re uncertain about the logistical difficulties local governments could face capping tax growth for individual land parcels, as called for in the House bill, versus a cap on overall tax growth prescribed by the Senate version.
But we don’t believe the Legislature should require bond elections to be mixed in with general election contests. If a school district has facilities needs now, why must it wait to ask for funding from voters until the next general election? And if a ballot measure fails, forcing a district to wait two years before asking voters to approve it undermines school districts’ ability to act on facilities plans. Amid all the political noise of a general election, it will difficult and expensive to get a message through to voters.
We’re always wary of the state taking over more funding for local schools, subjecting a larger portion of their budgets to the political whims of the Legislature. We also question the wisdom in getting rid of the recreation levy at a time when schools are seeking to expand opportunities for students to get physical exercise.
We can support limiting property tax growth, but that should be the main focus. Other proposals that simply trade local wisdom for state edicts should be left by the wayside.
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