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Scrap school bonding bill in the Iowa Legislature
Republicans who control the Iowa Legislature have pledged to take action this session to reduce property taxes. But that conversation is starting with a bad bill lawmakers should scrap.
House File 1 would require public school districts asking voters to approve the issuance of bonded debt to pay for infrastructure projects to set aside dollars equal to 10 percent of the projects’ cost. It would throw up an unnecessary and, for many districts, an insurmountable barrier to seeking voter approval.
The bill would, in particular, hamper the Cedar Rapids Community School District from asking voters later this year to approve a $312 million bond issue to pay for 10 years’ worth of improvements to its middle and high schools. Under the bill, the district would need to provide $31 million up front, which school officials say would jeopardize their efforts.
The Cedar Rapids plan already faces an uphill climb to passage. A $312 million bond issuance would raise district property taxes by $2.70 per $1,000 of taxable value. It would need the support of 60 percent of voters to pass under existing Iowa law.
So it’s already difficult to get approval for bonding. And this bill could snuff out projects before voters even get their say. We believe local voters who better understand a district’s needs are better suited to make the final call on bonding, not lawmakers in Des Moines.
For smaller districts, even smaller bonding projects could be scuttled under the new rule. Larger districts with more expensive issues would be forced to break their plans up into much smaller pieces, requiring them to seek a series of public votes. Neither result is acceptable.
This sort of legislation also underscores the unending drumbeat of bills coming from the Statehouse in recent years eroding the ability of local school district leaders and other elected officials to make decisions that fit local circumstances and are in the best interests of the people who elected them. Iowa’s long commitment to local control is in tatters as lawmakers grab more and more state authority.
We fear the entirety of this property tax reduction discussion will center on handcuffing local leaders through state edicts. Such an attack on decision-making will likely harm many Iowans, but especially those who live in growing metro areas. That growth and the need for facilities and services should not lead to punishment by the Legislature.
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