Lousy governing with a bite
So quite possibly the most expensive administrative “clarification” in Iowa history will keep moving forward, just more slowly.
Republican lawmakers on the Administrative Rules Review Committee basically shrugged Tuesday at the Department of Revenue’s bid to rewrite sales tax law and hand manufacturers a $30 to $90 million annual tax break.
No legislative vote needed. It’s only a clarification. Perfectly legal, according to the folks who cooked it up.
GOP legislators declined to object, seeing nothing wrong with the Branstad administration bypassing the Legislature in such spectacular fashion. But the administration did agree to delay implementation from January to July. Swell, but it’s not likely the GOP-controlled House will alter or stop the change during the 2016 legislative session.
Meanwhile, the Revenue Estimating Conference was downgrading its state tax collections forecast by $121 million amid worries about the farm economy. This seems like a perfect time to for a pricey tax law clarification.
Actually, clarifying what items used in a manufacturing process should be exempt from sales taxes may be a grand idea. But it’s an idea that should be considered by 150 lawmakers. It’s lousy governing, and, someday, it will come back to bite Republicans.
It will bite public schools sooner. Between massive commercial property tax breaks approved in 2013, declining revenues and now a clarification, future state aid to schools may be best expressed in the fraction diddly/squat.
Cedar Rapids Superintendent Brad Buck, who was Gov. Terry Branstad’s education chief until earlier this year, wonders whether all this emphasis on business is really helping the state meet the governor’s lofty job creation goals.
“If these strategies aren’t generating jobs, would we be better off spending the money reinvesting in Iowans?” Buck told our editorial board. He said spending on schools, mental health and other areas appears to have been “paused” while the state helps business.
And some leaders eager to help business also want education to look more like a business, Buck said.
“I think there is a strong sentiment that if, and this isn’t a partisan thing for me, if the Republicans had both the House and the Senate, I think we would quickly see movement toward education savings accounts and something to do with Chapter 20. I think that’s a real thing,” Buck said.
Chapter 20 is Iowa’s collective bargaining law for public employees, including teachers. Education savings accounts allow parents to take their share of state school aid and spend it on private schools, home schooling or other options. Buck worries it would create a stratified education system where “well-situated” families take the money and run from under-resourced public schools while less wealthy families must stay.
“When we go into this mind-set that when you create competition, you automatically get better outcomes, that is absolutely what we have not seen in competition with creating these alternative pathways,” Buck said.
This is the stuff the next election should be about. Ask your lawmakers where they stand. If you don’t like the answers, seek a clarification.
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