The Iowa House at this hour voted 55-37 for legislation allowing Cedar Rapids and other communities hit by natural disasters to put a local option sales tax plan on the ballot in March. Passage sends the bill to Gov. Chet Culver, who will sign it.
Note: House members can cast votes for 10 minutes after the machine closes, so the exact final tally could change. The outcome won’t.
Cedar Rapids, in particular, wanted the change so it could hold a vote and start collecting the tax, pronto, to deal with deepening budget woes worsened by flood recovery. Never mind that local leaders had half of last year to put this on the ballot under existing laws. But, lucky for them, the Legislature bailed them out.
Send brownies, legislators love brownies.
Now begins a short but intense campaign to pass the penny tax in CR, as well as n other parts of Linn County and in Johnson County. Local city councils will have to act fast to put together spending plans that will appear on the ballot. They have until Tuesday.
In Linn County, it sounds like voters will be considering a one-cent sale tax increase for five years. There’s support among elected officials for using at least a percentage of the money for property tax relief. Otherwise, a wide array of flood-related uses are on the table, including property buyouts, rebuilding assistance, infrastructure projects etc.
But, as Republicans pointed out during House debate, there’s nothing in the law that says the money has to be used for recovery costs.
Backers say there’s a lot of support out there for the tax hike, even among retailers. The penny tax would take some of the burden off property taxes and spread it around.
But there is sure to be vocal opposition. Folks are already pointing to a planned 14 percent increase in city utility fees in CR. And it will be interesting to see what the Linn County Board of Supervisors recommends on county salaries, including supervisor pay, next week. A wrong move could send a bad message to voters at a critical moment.
I’m waiting to see the plan before I come down one way or the other. Regardless, it gives me something to write about. Win-win.
UPDATE — Gazette City Hall Guru Rick Smith has the goods. According to Mayor Halloran, CR local tax would go 20 percent for property tax relief and 80 percent for flood protection and acquisition/repair of flooded property.
UPDATE II — Radio Iowa’s O. Kay Henderson has House Minority Leader Kraig Paulsen, R-Hiawatha, explaining his no vote on the bill, with audio.