July 19, 2024

LETTER: If we have so much money

Susie Olesen


Taxes are the dues we pay to be part of a community with collective needs and interests - needs like public education (pre-K through universities and everything in between), police and fire, health care, sewer and water, roads and bridges, recreation, a working court system, safe facilities for our elders, and more.

On March 3, 2022, the Des Moines Register reported the legislature had passed and the governor signed a tax-cut plan of $1.9 billion to be fully implemented by 2026. In March of 2023, the Iowa Capital Dispatch reported a bill that passed out of a Senate Committee to eliminate income tax by 2030. Much of the revenue that has provided Iowa support in the last few years has come from the feds and that is going away, but the governor and legislature seem to be ignoring the time-tested Republican budget principle; do not obligate one-time money for ongoing expenses.

In addition, they have limited local counties’ and cities’ ability to generate more revenue when property values increase by more than 3% in most circumstances. They now require local governments to provide property tax relief rather than investing in their communities. Although that might sound good, in Storm Lake, for example, they have a huge sewer mess and wonder how they’re going to pay for it with these new limitations.

All of this raises some questions. Public schools have had a per pupil increase below their anticipated cost increases in 12 of the last 14 years. At Nodaway Valley that means salaries are low and programs have been cut. Limited state funding means that NV and many other schools across Iowa can’t attract teachers because of low salaries and big classes, adding up to diminished working conditions. Currently, NV is short a middle school math teacher, a high school math teacher, an elementary art teacher, and a special ed teacher. The superintendent we share with CAM teaches all the 7th and 8th graders in whole-grade sections, containing around 40 students in each class. Those classes are too big, and Superintendent Croghan has too much responsibility to teach 80 students math every day. But what is he to do?

My question for the governor and our legislators, Ray Sorensen and Amy Sinclair, is this: if we have so much money in the bank that we can eliminate income tax, surely we have enough money in the bank to give public education a much-needed boost. If we don’t pay our dues and support our public schools and other essential state services, we won’t have a community or a state worth living in.