In the Legislature


During the fifteenth week of the legislative session we continued our work towards adjournment for the year. We spent much of our time waiting for bills to come to us from the other chamber, waiting on amendments, and debating some of the last proposals we will discuss this year. Because this is the first year of the 88th General Assembly, bills that didn’t get passed out of the Senate can be taken up next year.


This year, Senate Republicans continued our work on a pro-growth agenda for Iowa. Our objective during the legislative session is to continually challenge the status quo and pass legislation that provides an environment for more job opportunities, more flexibility, and more innovation.


These priorities drove our agenda each day in the Senate. One of the very first things we did this year was appropriate more than $89 million in new spending for K-12 schools and start to address the inequities when it came to the classroom and transportation. This would bring the total taxpayer investment into K-12 education to $7.1 billion annually.


We passed a number of bills to level the playing field in our state, from private solar generation fees to the process for selecting judges by judicial nominating commissions. We moved forward a group of bills to bring more people into our workforce and ensure those who truly need help and assistance are receiving it. We built on the successes of our adult mental health system to create a children’s mental health system. Finally, we passed legislation to control the growth of property taxes and improve the transparency and accountability of the property tax process.


Extending SAVE for Schools


For the last 10 years, school districts across Iowa have utilized proceeds from a one-cent sales tax to fund infrastructure projects. The Statewide Penny for School Infrastructure was established in 2008 by the legislature, and set to expire in 2029. With 10 years left on the original legislation, schools asked the legislature to renew the statewide penny so it would not hinder their budget process and bonding for future infrastructure projects. This week that penny sale tax was extended in the Senate.


Since its inception, schools have used the sales tax proceeds to fund school safety improvements, add new technology for staff and students, and improve the transportation fleet. It also provided for the purchase equipment that previously relied on Physical Plant and Equipment Levy (PPEL) funds or new bond issues. This enabled districts to ease the burden on property taxpayers by not utilizing PPEL funds or adding debt service.


Under the bill, funding is distributed based on enrollment, with the same amount available to support each student, no matter where he or she lives. It is community driven as local communities use the funds based on their facility and infrastructure needs. Extending the statewide penny from 2029 to 2051 allows school boards to have more predictability in creating long-term plans and budgets and helps alleviate the property tax burden when unexpected problems arise in buildings. Even though this tax has been used effectively, I am concerned about extending any tax all the way to 2051. I would have never guessed technology would have advanced so much in the past 30 years. What will education look like in the next 30 years? Virtual classrooms? 3-D glasses illustrating complex mathematical formulas? All of this available in your living room? As higher & higher internet speeds become commonplace, how much brick & mortar will we need? In the end, I did vote for it. I hope it continues to be used efficiently.


Truth in Taxation Passes the House and Senate


On Wednesday evening, Senate File 634 passed the Senate floor on a bipartisan vote of 33-17. This bill made several changes to the way property taxes are collected in Iowa. It creates more public input into the local budget process and brings more transparency and accountability in the property tax process with the goal of empowering taxpayers to participate and control the increases of property taxes on their home.


Helping to control the growth of property taxes is the main objective of our proposal. Over the last 18 years property taxes have more than doubled, while incomes for Iowans have grown 43 percent over that same time. By inserting a new tax dollar resolution and public hearing into the current budget approval process, Senate File 634 places an enhanced spotlight on the local budgeting process and increases public input. This process will allow homeowners clarity into the real cause of property tax increases instead of the currently opaque process of receiving an assessment and months later receiving news of the tax rates placed on that assessment. It will also allow homeowners more time to communicate with their locally elected officials.


Prior to the public hearing, Senate File 634 will require a local government to inform taxpayers of a new “status quo” tax rate. The rate will show homeowners the property tax rate that would give the city or county the same amount of revenue it would have had in the previous year. Exceeding this rate alerts the taxpayer their taxes may be rising.


After the public hearing local officials will need to approve the information they just discussed. If the tax dollars and rates discussed at the public hearing exceed 2 percent compared to the previous year, the local governing body must approve the amount of increase with a two-thirds vote. The enhanced vote requires lawmakers to reach greater consensus before raising the financial burden property taxes place on homeowners.


Iowans have asked for relief from rising property taxes and this bill finally brings some transparency to the process. With the passage of this bill, Iowans will be able to see why their property taxes are being raised. Furthermore, it will give them the information they need to hold their local governments responsible.


As always, I want to hear from you. My Senate number is (515) 281-3371 and my home number is (515) 432-7327 or write me at: State Capitol, Des Moines, IA 50319 or at my home address: 1313 Quill Avenue, Boone, IA 50036 or email me atjerry.behn@legis.iowa.gov.