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Property tax reform a key issue for GOP legislative leaders

DES MOINES (AP) — Iowa GOP legislative leaders said Thursday they plan to go into the 2019 session challenging the way things are done in state government focusing on several issues including property taxes and picking judges.

Senate Republican leader Jack Whitver said at a legislative forum hosted by The Associated Press that Iowans expressed confidence in his party by returning it to power again and that means keeping campaign promises. One of those promises is a thorough review of property taxes.

“When you look at government spending the local spending greatly outpaces what happens at the state level,” he said. “We have no plan that we’ve agreed on what we need to do but what I’ve done is challenge the Ways and Means Committee to look at our property tax system holistically to see what other states are doing and why ours are so much higher than other states.”

Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer said at a minimum, lawmakers should provide more transparency about how property taxes work since Iowan’s often don’t understand why they’re told their taxes are going down but their property taxes continue to rise.

Democrats are concerned that changes could cut tax revenue used by local governments including schools and counties.

House Democratic leader Todd Prichard said the state has shifted some of the funding burden for mental health programs and schools to local governments which must rely on property taxes.

“I think what needs to be out in this conversation is that we aren’t putting local governments who are trying to provide services and fund schools and fund mental health systems at the county and regional level in a box where we’re micromanagers,” he said.

Gov. Kim Reynolds said at the forum she’s interested in looking at what lawmakers come up with. As a former county treasurer she said she heard for years complaints from business owners and individuals about rising property taxes.

Selection of judges is another Republican focus likely to generate significant debate. Currently the governor appoints eight members of a judicial selection commission and lawyers chose the other eight.

Whitver said Republicans are interested in reducing the clout attorneys have and increasing public input as a way to deal with what he and other conservatives view as judicial activism.

Prichard said Iowa has a system viewed by many states a nonpartisan model and it should be left alone

“The worst thing we can do is politicize our judiciary,” he said. “What problem are we trying to fix?”

The legislative session begins Monday. Reynolds delivers her annual Condition of the State address on Tuesday.

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