|February 27, 2019, in The Des Moines Register|
Grover Norquist might as well be Iowa's governor or a state legislative leader.
Never mind that he's not a resident. Never mind that you might never have heard of him. More than anyone, Norquist is getting his way with how Iowa treats its residents and its future.
Norquist is the president of Americans for Tax Reform. He hates taxes. He's not particularly fond of government. He is famous in political circles for his comment, “I'm not in favor of abolishing the government. I just want to shrink it down to the size where we can drown it in the bathtub.”
The Norquist strategy is simple: Since state governments must balance their budgets, to shrink services you deliberately reduce revenues.
In Iowa this has taken many forms. We don't plug corporate tax loopholes — estimated cost $60-$100 million a year. We keep spending recklessly on business tax credits — about $300 million a year, with little accountability. We cut local property taxes and backfill the lost local revenue with state dollars — over $300 million a year from the general fund that could have been used for other purposes that have been held down.
All of these hundreds of millions represent money going down the drain of Norquist's bathtub. It’s a longtime problem.
In 2018 we compounded it. Iowa passed personal income tax cuts favoring the wealthiest at enormous new costs — over $400 million a year. Corporate income taxes will be cut by about $41 million in FY2022 and even more in succeeding years, with legislators already talking about further reductions before those cuts have taken effect.
For comparison, a 1 percent boost in per-pupil school aid (Supplemental State Aid, or SSA) costs about $40 million, and the Legislature pushed through a plan for just over 2 percent for the coming FY2020 budget. SSA has averaged about 1.7 percent annual growth for the last nine years, as schools were told it was all we could afford.
So it was quite amazing last week to follow the House debate on that school funding proposal and see a representative call a "point of order" — a timeout to stop debate — attempting to censor a colleague's comments about Iowa's 2018 tax giveaways to the rich as irrelevant to the debate.
Make no mistake: Tax policy and especially Iowa’s never-ending tax cuts have everything to do with school funding in Iowa.
How ironic to see that the morning after the House debate, a subcommittee met to discuss legislation to mandate financial literacy instruction — in high schools, not the State Capitol, where clearly it is as necessary.