Local Government Guaranteed Income Programs to be Banned

This legislation properly reminds Iowa cities and counties of their expected role, while protecting property taxpayers from funding a flawed poverty prevention program. 

Taxpayers across Iowa were provided with another protection by the Iowa Legislature this week, as the House and Senate sent a bill to Governor Reynolds that bans local governments from participating in guaranteed income programs.   House File 2319, managed by Representative Steve Holt and Senator Scott Webster, prohibits local governments from making “regular periodic cash payments that are unearned and that may be used for any purpose, but does not include a program under which an individual is required to perform work or attend training”. This definition was written to ensure work study and other training programs local governments oversee can continue.

Iowans may recall Andrew Yang’s failed 2020 presidential bid and his campaign’s central theme of “universal basic income”.  Just two years later, the city of Des Moines announced their intent to take part in a guaranteed income pilot program, along with other local governments in Central Iowa.  Knowing that Iowans are frustrated by their ever-growing property tax burden and any programs administered by local governments are funded by property tax dollars, ITR Foundation dug into those plans.

Our research demonstrated that participating local governments had committed over $1 million to UpLift, a Central Iowa Basic Income Pilot program, planning to pay 110 participants across many communities $500 per month for 24 months. According to the project’s data, approximately 81% of the current program’s participants live in Polk County while the others live in nearby communities within the Des Moines metropolitan area.  Residents of these communities were interested to learn of the new spending plans of their local governments, and many took issue with how funds were being used while their property tax bills continue to increase.

When local governments take on the task of administering programs like UpLift, they divert resources and attention away from critical services like public safety or maintaining infrastructure. This diversion of resources, known as mission creep, can lead to a deterioration of essential public services, negatively impacting the overall well-being of citizens.  As Senator Brad Zaun, a former mayor himself, noted during debate on the bill, “Taxpayer money is to provide services citizens expect…maintaining roads and libraries, and offering protection with police officers and fire fighters.” Senator Zaun went on to implore local governments to “focus on the basics.” 

Beyond the detriments of mission creep, guaranteed income programs reek of socialism, as they aim to be a new form of wealth re-distribution.  While we have come to accept various social safety nets and forms of assistance and welfare from our federal and state governments, doing so with property tax dollars at the local level sets a dangerous precedent. These types of programs would further foster a culture of dependency on government handouts and create a disincentive to work, or otherwise encourage Iowans to remain under-employed.

Progressive policy ideas have not been able to make it through the legislative process inside the Iowa Capitol in recent years.  And guaranteed income, specifically, has not been able to make it through Congress in Washington, D.C.  Proponents of these sorts of programs are left trying to institute them at the local level, hoping they can find a receptive audience among city councils and county boards.  Iowans will have to remain on guard to ensure these types of ideas are not allowed to take root at any level of government.

The core duty of local officials is not wealth redistribution, but providing essential services to their residents. This legislation, which will allow UpLift to run until 2025, properly reminds Iowa cities and counties of their expected role, while protecting property taxpayers from funding a flawed poverty prevention program.  The bill passed both the House and Senate, largely on a party line votes, and now awaits the governor’s signature to become law.

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