An earnest discussion about reforming the state’s tax code will have to wait — at a small business roundtable organized by Zach Nunn, the Republican candidate for Senate District 15, many of the residents who attended were focused on tax issues.
Nunn may have hoped to focus on issues facing small businesses, but on Monday many of residents who attended the forum, co-sponsored by Iowans for Tax Relief, sounded off on another issue — property taxes.
Chris Ingstad, policy director of Iowans for Tax Relief, said the issue is a common complaint.
“Whether it’s events like this or people reaching out, it’s always property taxes,” Ingstad said. “Particularly this time of year when the bill is due.”
For Ben Miller, co-chair of the Jasper County Republican Party, property taxes continue to be an important issue. Miller, who owns several rentals in Jasper County, said property taxes and the related assessments are a significant factor. In some instances, Miller said the cost of his property taxes exceeds his mortgage.
“That’s pretty much overlooked sometimes, but it’s one of the most important things for Jasper County residents,” Miller said. “It’s something I have to look at every year.”
Nunn said he’s heard from numerous residents over the years regarding property taxes, including from a local veteran who was at risk for losing his home after becoming disabled. Nunn said to many Iowans the assessed value of a home may seem like an “arbitrary” number.
Despite the concerns raised by the audience, Brian Lohse said he still advocates for taking a cautious approach when dealing with property tax issues. Lohse, who’s running for Nunn’s former Iowa House seat is a Bondurant city council member. Noting his city has seen “explosive” growth over the past few years, Lohse said property taxes are a critical instrument as the city of Bondurant struggles to keep up with growth.
”As a person serving on the council, I’ve seen that growth ... We have to be careful about doing that automatically, we want to make sure these communities aren’t cut off from the funding they need,” Lohse said. “That’s my perspective, and that’s the city of Bondurant’s perspective.”
Lowering property taxes would cut communities like Bondurant off from the funds they need to continue to make improvements such as infrastructure in the face of growth, Lohse said.
For Nunn, the sweeping tax cut legislation that passed on the last day of the legislative session was a “good start,” but he’s ready to go further. At 6.8 percent, Iowa ranks sixth out of eight in a survey of combined state and local sales tax rates, leading only Wisconsin and South Dakota, according to information provided by the Tax Education Foundation.
“If this is all that happens, it’s probably a missed opportunity,” Nunn said. “We need to find ways to continue to get that sales tax rate down.”
By decreasing the income tax rate Nunn said legislators have been working hard to put money back into the pockets of Iowa’s working class. The $400 million in tax cuts are making it easier for Iowans to move forward with projects like car repair or home remodeling, projects they might have done without if the tax cuts hadn’t happened. According to Nunn, that’s money Iowans are spending with local businesses.
“Iowa’s dollars are going back to Iowans,” Nunn said. “When we do well in our private sector it brings the public sector along as well.”
John Dunwall, a member of the Jasper County Republican Party who helped organize the meeting, said he’s not surprised so many residents sounded off about property tax issues. With the state legislature voting to lower the income taxes on the final day of the legislative session, Dunwall said he thinks it’s only natural attention would turn to property tax reform.
Despite the concerns residents voiced during Monday’s forum, Dunwall was careful to point out the group isn’t against taxes — they just want more of a say in how the money’s spent.
“No one is against paying taxes, no one here is against investing in our community,” Dunwall said.
Instead, Dunwall said he would like to see a greater focus on reorganizing the Iowa Public Employee Retirement System. More commonly known as IPERS, the fund offers state employees access to something that’s nearly disappeared from private retirement accounts — a pension fund. Dunwall said employers have told him they’ve watched workers leave jobs in the private sector to take a position with the state. To Dunwall, that’s unfair competition.
“Those employees should have the same risks we have in the private sector,” Dunwall said.
Contact David Dolmage at 641-792-3121 ext. 6532 or firstname.lastname@example.org