Let's keep school tax separate

Monday, March 7, 2016

Gov. Terry Branstad's plan to divert a portion of one cent school infrastructure sales tax revenue is a bad idea. The revenue that all now goes toward school infrastructure would, under Branstad's plan, be divided between schools and water quality initiatives.

The history of the tax dates back to 1998, when a School Infrastructure Local Option (SILO) tax became an option for individual counties to raise funds specifically for infrastructure (not operating expenses). The tax required approval by a majority of the voters in a county referendum. Funds collected in the county were distributed to schools based on how many residents of the county attended school in that school district. As it turned out, the revenues were lopsided, with the few counties in the state containing major retail centers able to provide much higher per-pupil funding from the sales tax revenue. At the extremes, Polk County was able to provide 9 times more per pupil funding than Louisa County.

In 2008, a statewide one cent sales tax for school infrastructure replaced the local option tax for schools. The new sales tax was distributed at the same amount per pupil throughout the state. The tax helps control property tax rates.

The state needs to fund water control measures mandated by a lawsuit against county drainage districts, but dipping into a fund designated for another purpose is a bad precedent.