July Revenue Figures Show Strength In Times of Uncertainty

The first month of Iowa’s new fiscal year is now behind us. While looking at a single month is just one small slice of the pie, it might be hinting at some economic trends we are seeing nationwide.  Record low unemployment could be resulting in higher than expected income tax payments, while fast growing inflation and a looming recession might be causing people to spend less of their money.

Where Did Iowa’s Local COVID Relief Funds Go?

In March 2021, the United States was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to previous large-scale stimulus measures, Congress passed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) on a party-line vote. Relief for state and local governments was among the most thoroughly debated provisions of the legislation, ultimately sending $130.2 billion to state, local, tribal, and territorial governments. Iowa cities and counties collectively received $1.162 billion. The state’s largest eleven metropolitan cities received nearly $335 million, while counties took in $612 million and smaller governments received $216 million in payments.

“It’s Easy” To Spend Taxpayer Dollars

Why do local governments believe they need so much of your money? In recent years, Iowa property valuations have increased considerably. Large valuation increases usually translate into increased revenue for local governments in the form of property taxes. Given the impact of inflation, we can expect this trend to continue.  It will be interesting to see how Iowans manage to bear a growing property tax burden while paying more for gas, groceries, and everything else.

What Drives Citizens to Move?

Do you ever get together with friends and instead of socializing about normal topics, you get thrown into a conversation about taxes?  Well, that is exactly what happened to me the other day.  Admittedly, having spent most of my career in public policy, it happens to me a lot.  This time, however, I wasn’t the one who started it.

WHO’S GETTING THE BIGGEST SLICE OF PROPERTY TAX PIE?

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.

Drive A Tesla, Get Free Property Taxes

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.

The Growing Cost of Municipal Debt

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.

Intentions Don’t Always Equate to Results

“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.

Benefiting the Few With Resources From the Many

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.