DES MOINES — The Iowa legislature has voted to keep charging the one-percent sales tax that’s been used for school infrastructure until 2051.

The bill directs 30 percent of the sales tax money that’s raised to property tax relief. The  other 70 percent of the sales taxes raised will help pay for school improvements. Republican Senator Amy Sinclair of Allerton said those projects would otherwise be paid for with a hike in local property taxes.

“This is important,” Sinclair said yesterday during Senate debate. “This is important particularly for rural schools that don’t have growing student populations to help off-set the costs of the facilities.”

Republican Senator Chris Cournoyer, a former school board member from LeClaire, said she has “a stack” of reasons her district needs this extra sales tax money long into the future.

“Our public school buildings are paid for with taxpayer money and we have an obligation to maintain them,” Cournoyer said, “…so we can prepare our students to compete in the global workforce and continue to grow our Iowa economy.”

With a change in state law, the tax is set to expire in 2029. Senator Dan Dawson, a Republican from Council Bluffs, said by extending it to 2051, schools will be able to use the sales tax money as collateral to finance long-term construction projects.

“Our school board officials out there, who do not get paid for these jobs, who do the best that they can to try to plan forward for what the needs are for not tomorrow, but 10 years, 20 years when they’re looking at having to replace buildings, upgrade buildings,” Dawson said.

The bill also clarifies that the sales taxes raised for school infrastructure can be used to enhance school safety and security. The bill cleared the Iowa Senate Wednesday on a 48-2 vote. The House passed the bill Thursday afternoon 94-4. Representative Jacob Bossman, a Republican from Sioux City, said the bill simultaneously addresses school infrastructure needs and provides an estimated 325 million in property tax relief each year.

“Both are priorities for my constituents,” Bossman said. “It’s a win-win.”

Critics say the plan siphons off too much revenue for property tax relief, money that’s needed for school construction and renovation projects.
“Like others, I am going to hold my nose and vote yes on this bill,” said Representative Mary Erin Donahue, a Democrat from Cedar Rapids, who is a teacher.

The bill, which now goes to the governor, has been a priority for education groups.