Rod Sullivan, Supervisor, Johnson County, Iowa

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January 22, 2009

Sullivan’s Salvos 1/20/09

The Iowa Legislature is back in session, and there are several discussions worth mentioning. One idea I really like is Senator Joe Bolkcom’s proposal to allow local governments the option to use a Local Option Income Tax.

As you know, local governments get most of their revenues from property taxes. While property taxes certainly need to be a part of the mix, they clearly penalize people who are property rich but cash poor. The classic example is the little old lady who paid off her house in 1985, and retired in 1990. Her property taxes have gone up since 1990, (as have the costs of food, electricity, medicine, and the like) but her income has not risen. A Local Option Income Tax would shift some of the total tax collected from her to wealthier people.

I have always favored greater use of income taxes. Income taxes ensure that those best able to pay do so. Income taxes are much less regressive than sales taxes, and quite a bit less regressive than property taxes.

You’ll hear lots of carping that this is complicated and unworkable, but that is a red herring. This is not a new idea; Johnson County residents have been paying an income tax surcharge for schools for years. If you look at any Iowa Income Tax form, you’ll see that it is a quick and easy calculation. You already do it. It cannot be simpler.

Under Senator Bolkcom’s proposal, voters would need to approve the tax. This only makes sense; voters already weigh in on Local Option Sales Taxes and bond referenda – they should vote on this as well.

Another piece of Senator Bolkcom’s proposal is that at least 75% of the revenues raised would need to go toward offsetting property taxes. This makes sense to me. It forces advocates of revenue diversification to commit to lowering property taxes, but also acknowledges that local governments are cash strapped. Frankly, I think they could say that 80-85% of the revenues need to be used to offset property taxes. That would still give a boost to local governments while bringing greater equality to our tax structure.

Right now, the far right has set the tone for all budget discussions in this state. They scream, “We must cut taxes! Times are tough!” You may recall that they used to scream, “We must cut taxes! Times are good!” To these people, tax cuts are ALWAYS the answer. Frankly, we can (and often have) cut taxes too much.

Right-wingers complain about property taxes. But trust me, they will be even MORE opposed to income taxes. These same right-wingers will find reasons to oppose income taxes, even if it is a dollar-for-dollar replacement of property taxes. Because they do not WANT fairness; they want the wealthy to benefit at the expense of everyone else.

In my mind, we need to look out for those who have less. Those with less need help. In most instances, the necessary help comes from the government. That help must be funded – that means those with less need people to pay taxes. Tax cuts for the rich do not help people on Medicaid.

Thanks, Senator Bolkcom, for putting forward this option. Iowans need to at least be allowed to have this discussion. It is long overdue!

A friend sent me an AMAZING article from the Gazette dated January 24, 1990. The article covers the Iowa City City Council as they debated approving the Idyllwild development. Check out these quotes:

“The two Council Members who voted against the zoning - Susan Horowitz and Karen Kubby – said Iowa City’s Floodplain Ordinance is out of date, and that development in the area should not be permitted until the safety of residents can be determined. ‘I want to assure the safety of our homeowners,’ Horowitz said. Horowitz said taxpayers in the future will pay a price when the city is sued by homeowners following a flood in the proposed area.”

Pretty eerie, huh? In the same article, the Council at the time relies on the same tired argument we hear so often in zoning matters… “We have no legal basis to deny the request.”

I am no law professor, nor am I a zoning administrator. But I know enough to know that response is BS. The idea of “no legal basis to deny” only applies to platting, not zoning. Councils are never REQUIRED to rezone. Yet we still today hear this specious argument used to justify bad ideas.

It would be interesting to go back and find all the letters to the editor accusing Kubby and Horowitz of being anti-growth kooks. I wonder how the letter writers would feel now?

The 12th Annual Domestic Violence Intervention Project (DVIP) Souper Bowl is January 29th from 5:30-7:30 at the Quality Inns and Suites of Iowa City.

Advance tickets are on sale now for $20 or you can buy tickets at the door. For more info, contact 351-1042.

Saturday, January 24 from 8 pm to midnight at the Solon Legion is the winter fundraiser for the Sutliff Bridge Authority. We will be celebrating 25 years of establishment for the SBA and we are trying for a little something special that evening.

Schmo Sounds will playing - $5 donation at the door goes towards the Sutliff Bridge Memorial Fund. As always, we will have t-shirts and sweatshirts for sale, along with a 50/50 drawing and great raffle prizes.

If you or someone you know is interested in making a cash donation, or donating an item for raffle or auction, please let me know.

DID YOU KNOW? Right-handed people live, on average, 9 years longer than left-handed people.

Anyone interested in learning more about County government should take a look at the County website-

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As always, feel free to contact me at 354-7199 or I look forward to serving you!



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