By Paul McKinley – Iowa Senate Republican Leader
When Governor Culver made his ten percent across-the-board reduction last fall as a result of his fiscal mismanagement, hundreds of millions of dollars were cut from Iowa’s school districts. This action forced schools to make serious reductions and increase local property taxes to cover any funding difference – an amount that is estimated to be between $230 and $270 million dollars.
Iowans are now being made aware just exactly how much of an impact it will have on their own family’s pocketbook. They can point to their own higher tax bills as proof of the disappointing fiscal record of Governor Culver and legislative Democrats, but the headlines from media all over the state serve as another unfortunate reminder.
For example, last Saturday the Iowa City Press-Citizen ran a story about the 14 percent tax increase that local property tax payers will be experiencing in that school district this year. The school’s superintendent was quoted in the newspaper as saying, "Property taxes are our means of covering the (lost state funding).”
In another high-profile instance, Cedar Rapids TV station KGAN CBS 2 ran a story this week that showed local Linn County property taxpayers, already having to contend with flood recovery from the devastation of 2008, will end up receiving a hefty property tax increase. “It’s a tough time to be in an Iowa classroom. Governor Chet Culver’s ten percent across the board cut is leaving school leaders scrambling to make up millions,” said the article.
While those are just two recent headlines from two Iowa communities, the same property tax increases are happening in literally every community at a time when our citizens can least afford it. To make things worse, Governor Culver broke his promise to the people of Iowa when he said he would not raise taxes. Iowans are tired of politicians espousing hollow rhetoric when they know the true results are substantially different.
But this issue is more than just about school funding and property taxes. It is also about jobs. With some of the highest property tax rates in the country already, Governor Culver’s property tax increase makes Iowa even less competitive when it comes to attracting and keeping employers and entrepreneurs who are the job creators we need to grow our state.
His property tax increase is just the latest barrier to job creation at a time when we have over 111,000 Iowans unemployed along with many who are underemployed and have stopped looking or are yet hoping to join our workforce. Just this week, Iowa’s unemployment rate jumped another tenth of a percent higher to 6.6 percent – a level that continues to be unacceptably high.
Manufacturers’ News, a national journal focused on our economy and manufacturing, published a story with devastating news just last week. In the year of 2009 alone, Iowa lost 222 manufacturing plants and 11,072 factory jobs. This represented an industrial employment decline of 4.1 percent.
While our strong agriculturally based economy has been able to shield us better than some other states, those overwhelming numbers should alarm every Iowan and should serve as a wake-up call to elected officials.
On every one of these key issues, whether it be responsible and sustainable budgeting, protecting the property taxpayers or working to make it easier for long-term private sector jobs to be created, Senate Republicans have offered real, tangible leadership. On every occasion, the current party in power has obstructed our bold efforts.
We have put forth an ambitious package of job creation proposals that would provide an immediate jolt of energy to Iowa’s economy and stimulate lasting private sector job creation. We have offered a series of common sense budget reforms that, if implemented, would put an end to the kinds of budgeting tactics that have imperiled our state’s fiscal standing the last three years. Senate Republicans have even presented Governor Culver and legislative Democrats with a proposal to help our students, schools and shield our property taxpayers by giving them more flexibility and local control over the dollars they receive from state government. They should be able to spend it how they see fit instead of raising property taxes and being forced to obey unfunded mandates.
Now with just a few short weeks to go before the Legislature adjourns for the year, Iowans have yet to see tangible progress on the important issues of responsible budgeting, job creation and property tax relief that they asked to have addressed. There is yet still time to make improvements. These are challenging times but challenges always provide opportunities. As Iowans, we should take this opportunity to grow our state and provide a future for our children and grandchildren that all of us can be proud of. Senate Republicans stand ready to lead the way.