The Marion County Tribune recently sent questions to Sen. Amy Sinclair about the upcoming legislative session. Below is the exchange, edited for brevity and clarity.
MCT: Have there been discussions about how much the state auditor’s budget will have to increase since we won’t have a CPA at the helm? Who can be the people’s watchdog with an unqualified lawyer leading the office?
SAS: There is no legitimate answer to that. There will be additional costs, but they haven’t been quantified for me. The sad reality is that the citizens of Iowa voted to have an unqualified individual in a role he can not possibly adequately fill.
MCT: We have had many discussions about rural Iowa, and it seems to me that the current property tax rollback only fuels urban migration. Small Iowa towns like Reasnor have very little commercial property compared to residential. Lower property taxes are good, but it also makes it hard for small towns to compete and grow if there is no money available to fund proper police and fire protection, let alone other amenities. How can we address this to preserve small town Iowa?
SAS: Without commercial property, there shouldn’t have been a major hit to a town’s budget. That being said, a huge portion of Iowa has already exceeded property values prior to the commercial property tax reform levels. Even as close to you as Lynnville, the changes for property taxes spurred economic growth and business development, which was the intent. Addressing the issue of urban flight is a different conversation than property tax reform. Those answers are fairly unique to every community.
MCT: Staying with property taxes, why is the rate for ag land based upon market proves from the previous year? How is that fair to other industries and businesses who may suffer bad years, but likely pay the same if not higher rates? One more about ag land – if someone owns land, but is receiving cash rent for someone else to farm, why shouldn’t the landowner pay consistent taxes since he/she probably makes the same rent income regardless of production?
SAS: The current ag tax system was created during the time in Iowa’s history when land values were skyrocketing without incomes necessarily reflecting it. The volatility was partially what led to the farm crisis. The taxes are based on a rolling average of productivity as well as the constant of potential productivity based on soil type. It provides for a more predictable taxing baseline, though that shifts depending on local government’s established mil levies. Commercial properties and residential properties rarely see the wild fluctuations in value and have a very predictable tax bill because of it already.
As for cash rent, it does tend to follow productivity. Lower rents when markets are down, higher rents when they are booming. Landowners do not see consistent revenue. Additionally many rent on shares, which is completely based on productivity.
MCT: I know you’re the education leader in the Senate. Will you push for real ed reform, including how it is funded, to account for our changing jobs landscape and demographic shift to an older population with fewer kids?
SAS: Much of what I’ll push for in education this year is continued advances back to local control. And I will continue to work to ferret out waste and redundancy and over regulation.
MCT: Since Republicans continue to hold all three keys to state government, can we expect major cuts to the size and scope of our state government, including the budget? If not, what is holding back the party of limited government from living up to that tradition? I know you’ve worked to root out duplicated services, but will the rest of your party get on the boat to get it done?
SAS: I can’t and won’t answer for whether or not other legislators will do the same. I would hope so, but I don’t have those answers.
MCT: I heard that, despite fewer people being on Medicaid now, costs to provide Medicaid services will increase $64 million next year. Why is that? What would cause an increase to this program?
SAS: I can’t answer the Medicaid question. As far as I know, there are no definitive numbers yet, but I will certainly ask my staff analyst for whatever information we have.
MCT: What steps can the legislature, or we as citizens, take this year to improve public safety? I’m talking everything from safer highways, to safer schools, to fighting human trafficking. What can we do to “promote the general welfare and provide for the common defense”?
SAS: Public safety is a big one. A few things I see as necessary. We need to work at improving staffing levels at IHP. They are often the front line in prevention and response from a state perspective. (Locally our police and sheriff’s departments do the work.) We have funded trooper academies the past two years and have been able to hire and train new patrol. Unfortunately, (or fortunately) our unemployment rates are low and have held down qualified applicants. Secondly, school security is key to me. Making all our buildings harder targets and training staff in identification of issues and response is essential. Finally, we must do better in treating those in fragile mental health situations to prevent their escalation into violence. We began that work with adults last year and need to find it and continue the process with the child system. Human trafficking is a big issue as well with the two interstates. Everyone needs to be aware and report anything suspicious. We are training law enforcement to specifically respond to these types of situations.
Look to the Marion County Tribune for more on the legislature throughout the session. For more information on Sinclair, and for her contact information, click here.