Art Cullen
Art Cullen

September 15, 2017

The first rule of medicine or reasonable politics is: first, do no harm. The Iowa Legislature should follow this dictum when it reconvenes to extend the life of the school local option sales tax that is used for infrastructure.

The tax has been a relief to rural districts with tight finances, and to growing districts like Storm Lake’s. It is a relief to property owners who have enjoyed a stable bill, at least from Storm Lake, over the past several years.

School boards face enough heat over spending, and legislators can rest assured that they are not burning money while nobody is watching. To the contrary, most voters are more concerned about the Legislature’s disastrous fiscal stewardship. They should let school boards decide how best to spend money.

Extending the sunset of the school sales tax must be extended beyond 2029. The Storm Lake School District’s entire capital plan is predicated on its extension, as it needs to expand early-childhood facilities quickly to accommodate growing enrollment.

We see no natural constituency arguing against it, except for the people who generally hate government or any sort of tax. Sen. Mark Segebart, R-Vail, is a fiscal hawk if ever there were one, and he sees the need for the school tax. That makes us optimistic that the legislature can accomplish something good as it heads into an election session.

It is the most important legislative issue to the Storm Lake community. If we cannot expand our school facilities, we halt The City Beautiful’s growth. This is not about building for its own sake: East School and Gingerbread House simply cannot handle what is thrown at them, and neither can the elementary school and middle school.

Growth has costs.

Former Gov. Terry Branstad suggested skimming funds from the sales tax for ag water quality spending. The legislature flicked off that idea, fortunately. But it wasn’t quite ready last session to extend the tax until it has to.

Which is this January. If the GOP shuts off the lights to rural school districts, there could be costs in the midterm elections.

We trust that our legislative delegation will make Storm Lake’s priority their priority. Extend or repeal the sunset on the school sales tax. It has been a success for Storm Lake and for rural Iowa. It helps revitalize rural places with funds spent in urban areas. We would be voting against our own rural interests if we vote against the school sales tax.