Floor debate dominated most of our time during the thirteenth week of the legislative session. We discussed several issues important to Iowans including expanding broadband service in the state, protecting the constitutional rights of Iowans and providing property tax relief.
This week the Senate passed House Joint Resolution 5, amending the Iowa Constitution to add a new section on the protection of life. This proposed amendment will have to pass two legislative general assemblies and once it has cleared that hurdle the people of Iowa will make the final determination on its addition to the State Constitution through a ballot measure.
Expanding broadband access for Iowans
Expanding quality broadband access has been an important issue in Iowa for some time and has become even more so while many have been working from home, taking online classes in their living rooms or even attending virtual doctor’s appointments during the pandemic. This week the Senate passed House File 848, amending the broadband facility expansion grant program and allowing the state to work on bringing broadband to more Iowans.
The goal of this bill is to expand broadband access to underserved areas in Iowa and also ensure the technology is not rendered obsolete shortly after it is installed. House File 848 amends the broadband facility expansion grant program administered by the Office of the Chief Information Officer to prescribe new matching percentages for grants, establish new minimum service speeds for qualifying projects and amend certain factors used in evaluating grant applications.
Iowa currently ranks 45th in the country for broadband access. While over 80% of Iowa has access to internet, the average speed is the second slowest in the United States. There are many areas across the state that also have very little options for internet. House File 848 is the next step in getting faster internet to more households in Iowa and bringing more opportunities to all Iowans.
Senate passes property tax relief for Iowans
This year Senate Republicans have passed legislation to phase out the inheritance tax and eliminate the income tax cut triggers, providing certainty for families and small businesses. This week saw the passing of legislation to provide property tax relief.
The Senate passed SF 587 on Tuesday to addresses two major concerns for Iowans – property tax relief and mental health funding. It provides over $100 million in property tax relief for Iowans by eliminating property tax levies and removing the tax triggers put into place in the 2018 tax bill. Additionally, it provides $60 million in state funding for mental health in Iowa in the first year, $125 million in the second, and sets up sustainable, predictable funding growth for the future.
When we get feedback on this bill, we mainly hear about two issues – the phasing-out of the backfill and the elimination of the Public Education and Recreation Tax Levy (PERL). The backfill was originally created in 2013 to bridge a revenue gap created by corporate property tax relief. Since then, revenues to cities and counties have grown significantly in many areas of the state and the backfill has achieved its goal of covering lost revenue to cities and counties. Under this bill, the backfill to cities and counties would be phased out on either a four or six-year schedule, depending on how they grew relative to the rest of the state. Cities and counties that grew more than the state average, which is over 131%, would have the backfill phased out over four years. Cities and counties that grew less than the state average would have their backfill phased out over six years.
PERL was used by schools for things such as new playground equipment, before and after school programs and summer school programs. However, money may also be used for the same purpose under the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE) program. Since the legislature extended the one-cent sales tax for SAVE in 2019, PERL has become duplicative and unnecessary. Furthermore, eliminating levies is another way to ensure continued tax relief moving forward because as property assessments inevitably rise, the increases are less significant since property taxes are due on fewer levies.
Bold reforms have long been a priority in the Senate, and this bill continues to implement those types of reforms. It increases state funding for mental health services, simplifies the tax code, provides more certainty for Iowa families and small businesses, implements real property tax relief and makes owning a home in Iowa more attainable for new homeowners and for seniors facing rising property assessments. I was proud to support this bill, and I look forward to seeing the House take up these critical reforms for Iowans and their families.
A Personal Point
This week in the Senate I ran a bill that deals with how implement dealers and their suppliers maintain inventory. This bill provided clarity regarding the termination of dealer agreements, ensuring dealers have the right to terminate and receive the same consideration as the manufacturer when terminating those agreements. It is truly my pleasure to serve you in the Iowa Senate and as always feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns you have regarding pending legislation.