Iowa has a long history with property taxes and it is one of the most debated issues, even dating back to before statehood. The very first Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Iowa met in 1838 in Burlington, and one of their primary goals was to develop a revenue system. A few short months later the Iowa Territory created a property tax for residents, levied and collected by the counties – a function which the county still performs to this day.
Maybe you missed it, but April 3-9 was Affordable Housing Week in Iowa, where one of the main takeaways was that Iowa needs to increase its housing supply. It’s no secret that many states, including Iowa, have a housing shortage. Housing advocacy groups have identified a particular shortage of affordable homes, especially for lower-income Iowa families. In fact, it is such a pressing need that the State has designated $330 million over a five-year period to help aid in the issue.
With inflation and rising interest rates, it’s normal to worry about the national debt and what that means for our country. But what about Iowa and our local communities?
During the last few years, the state of Iowa tightened its belt and has reduced its overall debt burden. However, the combined total of state and local government debt increased by 5.3% to $18.8 billion in FY2021, the highest percentage increase in a decade.
“One of the great mistakes is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results” – Milton Freedman
This quote hits home for many of us who care about public policy, and it applies most accurately to using our tax dollars to incentivize companies to do business in Iowa. Depending on one’s view of incentives, this can be thought of as economic development, or corporate welfare, or even crony capitalism. The reality is incentives are a tool used to compete in our global economy and literally every state in the nation has adopted some form of incentive program.
Most citizens expect the property taxes paid to their city to be used for road maintenance, snow removal, building maintenance, and of course, public safety. These activities are all considered core government services and functions. However, in current times we see some of our city governments spending considerable dollars on things that could be better managed by the private sector – and that’s a problem.