Staff Columnist

Farm groups took up most of the seats at Reynolds' sales tax table

A close-up view shows intricate details on the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abe
A close-up view shows intricate details on the Iowa Capitol building in Des Moines on Thursday, Dec. 19, 2019. (Andy Abeyta/The Gazette)

Just before Thanksgiving, I emailed Gov. Kim Reynolds’ office to ask which groups and individuals were involved in crafting the governor’s emerging plan to raise the sales tax and fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

At the time, Reynolds said, “We’re bringing all of the stakeholders to the table.” But who was invited? I got no answer.

Then, like a bolt out of the blue last week, a very confused carrier pigeon landed on my windowsill. I unrolled its dispatch and, lo and behold, it’s that list of stakeholders who made it to the table.

Or maybe it was just a very tardy email from spokesman Pat Garrett.

Garrett said the governor met with 18 groups. Of that list, 14 are tied closely to agriculture. That includes commodity associations representing dairy, turkey, poultry, soybeans and beef producers, corn growers and pork producers. Also at the table was the Renewable Fuels Association, the Agribusiness Association, the Institute for Cooperatives, the Department of Agriculture, the Center for Rural Affairs and, of course, the Iowa Farm Bureau. Reynolds’ plan boosts spending on farm-based water quality projects.

Four conservation organizations are on the list, including the Iowa Environmental Council, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Ducks Unlimited and the Iowa Water and Land Legacy Coalition. The coalition includes a long list of entities that support filling the trust fund created by voters in 2010.

I put a return note in the pigeon’s pouch asking how many times these groups met with the governor and when meetings took place. We’ll see if I get a response.

This sudden transparency arrives along with the governor’s bill, the Invest in Iowa Act, which has been filed in both the House and Senate. Reading through it is a little like watching a late night commercials for a 12-in-one kitchen gadget.

But wait, there’s more.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

As advertised, the governor’s bill raises the sales tax by a penny, with three-eighths of the proceeds going to the trust fund for water quality efforts and other outdoor spending. It uses the rest of the sales tax windfall to slice and dice income taxes and cover 70 percent of local mental health costs, thereby reducing property taxes. It expands child tax credits, provides new tax credits to doctors who train medical students in rural areas and eliminates the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

That’s a lot. But also not as much as we hoped, considering some environmental programs currently funded in the general fund would be moved into the trust fund, blunting the impact of new dollars on conservation efforts.

Most lobbyists tuning in have registered as undecided. But more than a dozen groups support Reynolds’ bill, including The Nature Conservancy, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation and the Iowa Water and Land Legacy Coalition. After a decade of waiting, they want the fund filled.

Lawmakers are less enthusiastic. Democrats see too much tax cutting. Republicans? Not enough. “My goal when we talk about this tax reform is making sure that we’re talking about transformational tax reform. Where we’re talking about, ‘How can we eliminate income tax in this state?’” Senate Ways and Means Chair Jake Chapman told Raccoon River Radio this week.

So it’s complicated. Expect more delays. Maybe pigeons.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.