The Weekly Rocket by Senator Rocky De Witt
We remained busy this week as we focused on subcommittees, committees, and even some floor debate. We welcomed a number of visitors and groups this week, including FFA groups from all over the state. I was happy to meet with these groups of leaders and talk with them about the legislative process and some of the important issues we are dealing with this legislative session.
This week Governor Reynolds also announced additional funding for the Iowa Veterans Trust Fund. This fund was created to assist Iowa veterans and their families with certain costs related to education, emergency assistance, medical care, and unemployment services. However, due to record inflation caused by the reckless spending policies in Washington, DC, and an increase in applications, the fund’s appropriation was insufficient to reimburse expenses.
K-12 Education Funding Moves Through Legislature
Funding for K-12 students is one of the first things to be addressed each year during the legislative session. Education is the largest part of the state budget, and it is an important piece not only to help determine the rest of our budget process, but also help schools set their budgets for the upcoming year. When determining the amount of additional funds K-12 schools will be given, we are focused on providing an amount to not only meet their needs but is also a sustainable part of the entire state budget.
Education is a priority for Senate Republicans, and it has been since 2017 when they took the majority in the Iowa Senate. It has consistently received increases in funding, totaling over $1.5 billion. While fully funding education has been a priority, giving parents choice and putting students first have also been a major focus. It is why over the last several years we have expanded open enrollment, dedicated money to transportation and per pupil equity, loosened regulations on schools, and, as of this year, gave more parents choice in their child’s education.
Protecting the Property Taxpayer
An error at the Department of Revenue could have led to a property tax increase of as much as $120 million for Iowa homeowners. Senate File 181, passed by the Senate on Wednesday, fixes the error, protects the property taxpayer, and provides clarity for local governments in future years. It now advances to the Iowa House for their consideration.
Some local governments have objected to the fix included in SF 181, oddly claiming it will require them to raise taxes. The puzzling aspect of that claim is, homeowners were on the hook for a possible 9-figure tax increase prior to passage of this bill. Some local governments are objecting to having to raise the levy rate if they could not confiscate the additional revenue generated by increased assessments. If those local governments now need to raise the levy rate to raise the same amount of property taxes, then they have to admit their decisions are the cause of rising property taxes. SF 181 reduces their ability to capture higher property tax payments with the same levy rate and rapidly rising assessments, a result of inflation caused by failed Biden economic policies.
The Cedar Rapids Gazette published an informative quote from Democrat Senator Pam Jochum that nicely summarizes this situation: “One county auditor, Jochum said, told her the bill would lead that county to increase is (sic) tax rate 29 cents to maintain current tax dollars. If not, county revenue would drop by $1.1 million.” To clarify, the unnamed county intended to raise property taxes by $1.1 million and planned to hide behind higher property values. With SF 181, now they will have to raise the tax rate to collect the same amount of revenue and may be held accountable for it by their property taxpayers.
It is important to address one final issue about the cost of local government. During the Senate subcommittee meeting on this bill, lobbyist after lobbyist appeared before the committee arguing against the bill. Each one of these lobbyists was representing a city, county, group of local governments, librarians, or some other taxpayer-funded entity. Few things aggravate me more than local governments using taxpayer money to lobby the legislature to take more of your tax dollars.
The issues in this bill are complicated. Property tax policies have been developed layer after layer, year after year, decade after decade to govern how local governments levy taxes on property to pay for the services provided to their residents. Later this session Senate Republicans will debut a plan to simplify the number of levies, improve the transparency of how homeowners are taxed on their property, and limit the cost and growth of local government.
At the Iowa State Sheriffs and Deputies Association Legislative Reception
Woodbury County Sheriff Sheehan, Sen. Alons, Sen. De Witt, and Secretary of State Paul Pate