Government

'Place-making,' tax policies top Iowa economic alliance's 2021 legislative goals

The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)
The dome of the State Capitol building in Des Moines is shown on Tuesday, January 13, 2015. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — One of Iowa’s largest business groups is joining Gov. Kim Reynolds’ efforts to persuade lawmakers to approve her Invest in Iowa plan to generate funding for mental health, the environment and other priorities while swapping a sales tax increase for a net income and property tax decrease.

In unveiling its 2021 legislative goals, the 17,000-member Iowa Chamber Alliance also voiced support for Reynolds’s Empower Rural Iowa Initiative as well as her economic recovery recommendations that addressed issues relating to the coronavirus pandemic and the derecho.

Legislators should focus their efforts on “recovery and resiliency, talent, economic development, business climate and infrastructure” not only in the 16 urban centers represented by the Alliance, but to the rural laborsheds in each of those regions, Alliance Board Chairwoman Cary Darrah of Grow Cedar Valley said Tuesday.

The Alliance’s agenda for the 2021 session of the Legislature includes building out the broadband infrastructure as well as addressing more traditional infrastructure needs, such as water, wastewater and transportation. It also wants lawmakers to help provide workplace housing, child care and student debt relief, support education at all levels and fully fund Future Ready Iowa.

Broadening the Alliance’s goals to include those issues reflects members’ concerns, said Doug Neumann, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Metro Economic Alliance.

During a discussion with local business leaders, he said, “unscripted and unasked that entire conversation turned to mental health and health care.” It’s important to recognize that workplace productivity is “highly correlated to making sure that we’re taking care of the mental health of our employees, and what a state can do in terms of investments, particularly in mental health, and in the whole complicated world of health.”

The Alliance also putting special emphasis on “place-making” to address quality of life in order to attract and retain workforce. Since 1900, Iowa’s population has grown less than 1 percent annually, Alliance Executive Director Dustin Miller said.

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“Tackling population growth is a very challenging endeavor, but it’s certainly something that we think needs to happen to ensure the long-term economic sustainability of existing businesses,” he said during the virtual news conference. So whether it’s attracting former Iowans back to the state or integrating new Americans into communities, Miller said Iowa must address the need for more child care, mental health practitioners and facilities, and providing the quality of life opportunities.

Although the Alliance believes Invest in Iowa could be part of addressing those issues, none of the legislative leaders who participated in a virtual forum Tuesday mentioned Gov. Reynolds’ plan

The governor is proposing a 1 percent sales tax increase while cutting state income taxes by 10 percent, funding water quality efforts and easing local property taxes by shifting mental health costs to the state and phasing down property tax levies.

She projected it would generate about $540 million more a year for the state. Of that, $172 million would go to natural resources, conservation, outdoor recreation and water quality improvement, while over $80 million a year would be earmarked for mental health care.

Alliance members also made a pitch for continued work to reduce the tax and regulatory burdens on Iowans.

Neumann hoped the 2021 session will provide an opportunity to build on the 2018 tax reform legislation.

“There’s more that needs to be done more, that should be done to be sure that Iowa has a competitive tax code,” he said. Iowa has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the nation and an overall tax climate that can make it difficult to market the state for business development, he said.

Iowa Chamber Alliance 2021 legislative goals

Recommendations outlined by Gov. Reynolds’ Economic Recovery Advisory Board:

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Funding for existing programs and consideration of new resources that promote “place-making” including quality of life and the arts

Development of immediately deployable resources for large scale disasters when budget reserves are full for businesses to recover

Favorable policies and additional funding for broadband priorities outlines through the Empower Rural Iowa Initiative

Fully funding the Future Ready Iowa Initiative

Addressing barriers to employment such as student debt repayment or access to child-care

Supporting education at all levels from preschool through post-high school options

Developing and supporting incentives with proven return in targeted industries

Removal of the sunset for both the brownfield and gray fields program

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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