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Iowa Senate panel advances 3% public school funding boost
Also, Senate OKs fix to property tax rate error
Gazette-Lee Des Moines Bureau
Feb. 1, 2023 6:23 pm, Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 6:47 pm
A bill setting a $106.8 million increase in public K-12 school funding is eligible for floor debate in the Iowa House and moving through the Senate.
Lawmakers on Wednesday passed House File 171 and Senate File 192 out of separate committees.
The bill increases supplemental state aid to Iowa public schools by 3 percent. The figure is higher than the 2.5 percent requested by Gov. Kim Reynolds in her budget proposal.
The bills advanced along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed.
The proposed increase translates to a per-pupil cost for the next school year of $7,635. The bills also include a 3 percent boost for categorical funds like the teacher leadership supplement and transportation equity.
“Our public schools are great, and we want to support them in every way we can,” Sen. Tim Kraayenbrink, R-Fort Dodge, said as the Senate moved the bill forward.
“But at the same time we want to make sure that we continue our conservative spending principles we’ve been pretty much locked into the last six or seven years.”
State funding for public schools has increased by a little over 2 percent on average each year over the past decade. If signed into law, a 3 percent increase would be the highest increase to public school funding since 2015.
The Iowa State Education Association, the union representing public school teachers, requested the Legislature increase state aid by 4 percent.
Lobbyists for education groups said the 3 percent increase was not enough to keep up with rising costs for schools and would not keep schools competitive with private sector employers.
Because of falling enrollment, some schools will see their total state aid decrease.
“With this proposal, nearly a quarter of our Iowa schools will not see money due to declining enrollment,” Sen. Sarah Trone Garriott said. “… There are a lot of fixed costs that cannot be reduced.”
Iowa’s budget guarantee process allows schools that do not reach at least 101 percent of the previous year’s budget to supplement up to 101 percent using property taxes. Around 72 schools would need to follow the budget guarantee process under the bill, Kraayenbrink said.
Senate OK’s fix to property tax rate error
The Iowa Senate unanimously passed legislation Wednesday to fix a state error that's left property taxpayers on the hook for higher bills than expected, but leaves cities and counties in the lurch having to make up a budget shortfall.
Property tax cuts in 2013 and 2021 changed the way multiresidential properties such as apartment complexes, nursing homes and mobile home parks are taxed to bring them in line with other residential properties.
But in November, the nonpartisan Legislative Services Agency discovered the Iowa Department of Revenue erroneously included multiresidential properties with other residential properties when calculating what's known as the “rollback rate” — an adjustment the state makes to hold down taxes by limiting the annual growth of property assessments.
The result is that residential property owners across Iowa would pay about $130 million more in taxes than they should have under the law's original intent, unless lawmakers fix the problem. The change also creates a shortfall in expected revenue for cities, counties, school boards and other local taxing entities which are now preparing fiscal 2024 budgets.
Representatives for Iowa’s cities, counties, school districts and community colleges urged lawmakers Monday to delay for a year changing the residential property tax rollback rate to allow local governments more time to make adjustments to absorb the financial blow.
Democrats argued local governments need more time to plan for the reduced revenues, while avoiding cuts to public safety and other essential services in the coming fiscal year.
But Senate Republicans instead passed an amendment extending the deadline for local governments to certify their fiscal 2023 budgets from March 31 to April 30, said Sen. Dan Dawson, R-Council Bluffs, who chairs the Senate’s tax policy committee.
The Senate voted down an amendment by Sen. Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque, to replace the property tax revenue local governments will lose with one-time state dollars. The amendment failed on a largely party-line vote.
Dawson argued lawmakers shouldn’t be on the hook for budgeting decisions made by local governments, and that cities and counties need to learn to live within their means.
The bill now heads to the Iowa House.
LGBTQ advocates rally at Capitol
Dozens of LGBTQ advocates were at the Capitol on Wednesday for One Iowa Action’s LGBTQ Day on the Hill.
Advocates met with lawmakers to speak on LGBTQ issues and a slate of bills making their way through the Legislature aimed at LGBTQ people.
Iowa Republican lawmakers advanced two bills on Tuesday about transgender issues. One would ban school instruction on gender identity in kindergarten through eighth grade, while another would require schools to notify parents when their child requests to use different pronouns or a different name.
Democratic lawmakers spoke at the rally at the Capitol before the advocates met with lawmakers, saying they supported the mission of One Iowa.
“(The bills) are mean-spirited, they are purposefully misguided, and they are wrong,” said state Sen. Liz Bennett of Cedar Rapids, the first openly LGBTQ woman in the Iowa Legislature. “And plenty of people here in this building agree with me … you have plenty of friends and allies in this building today.”
Judicial nominating change
Senate Republicans gave first approval to a proposal to remove judges from district court Judicial Nominating Commissions, and give the governor a sixth appointee to the 11-member panels.
Currently, the most tenured judge in the district serves on the commission as chair.
Opponents of the legislation say judges bring important perspective and expertise to the process of nominating new judges to openings in Iowa’s district court system. Supporters of the bill say the judges can have an outsized influence over the process.
Senate File 171 was advanced by the two Republicans on the subcommittee, making it eligible for consideration by the full Senate Judiciary Committee.
In 2022, Republican legislators approved a similar change that kept the judge on the commissions. Gov. Kim Reynolds vetoed that provision, saying it still left too much influence in the judge’s hands.