It comes as no small relief in these quarters that our local Republican legislators are not on board with Gov. Kim Reynolds’s plan to raise the sales tax for mental health, natural resources and property tax relief.
The governor’s plan does not respect the wish of the voters who, a decade ago, amended the Iowa Constitution to allow for a fractional sales tax to be used strictly for additional natural resource funding. Her proposal is a mishmash that does not appear to have much of a life with the legislative GOP caucus.
If the governor did what more than 60 percent of the electorate voted for in 2010, she would appropriate an additional $200 million (three-eights of a percent of new sales tax) to natural resource conservation and enhancement. Her budget appears to allow for an $82 million increase, much of which would be directed toward the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship. That is our basic problem: Reynolds thinks she can rewrite the funding formula that was presented to voters.
Rep. Gary Worthan and Sen. Mark Segebart, both Republicans, expressed skepticism at a recent legislative forum in Storm Lake for a different reason: It’s a tax increase. Republicans prefer not to run on that, and maybe they fail to appreciate how a slight increase in funding for water quality is worth a tax hike. They believe that the budget is in good enough shape to fund water quality and help counties avoid massive mental health property tax increases (an optimism we do not share, considering our rat’s nest of a Medicaid budget).
Some in the environmental lobby figure you should take the Reynolds plan as a bird in hand. They have been beaten to the point of picking up crumbs off the floor. County supervisors worry about ballooning property tax bills from a new, underfunded regional mental health system created by the sitting legislature and governor. It will be the legislators’ responsibility to avoid a taxpayer revolt in the next election, and it will be interesting to see what proposal they offer counter to the governor’s. They must offer relief of some sort. But not adding a percent to an already-high state sales tax.
It would appear that the legislature is not ready to fill the trust fund for the environment created by voters in 2010. That’s just as well, because the governor’s plan is not even half a loaf. Better to wait until she is up for re-election in a couple years.
Art Cullen is editor of the Storm Lake Times and a Pulitzer Prize winner.