Gov. wants sales tax hike for teachers union

Iowa Gov. Chet Culver threw a curveball at the debate over a potential statewide sales tax for schools Wednesday when he said he is open to using some of the proceeds for teacher salaries. His stance is different from many of his fellow Democrats in the Legislature who think the only way to pass the 1-cent tax is to limit its use to school construction or property tax reduction.

Republican leaders have tried to kill the proposal by arguing that the money will eventually be scooped for other uses, such as teacher salaries, an idea they oppose. Culver made his comment in a speech to the Iowa State Education Association, the state’s largest teacher union. The union wants to be able to use sales tax money for salaries.

“If we can work on this in a bipartisan way and get some consensus, I’m confident we can use this as a vehicle to address a lot of different needs and that might be one of them,” Culver said in an interview with Radio Iowa after the speech.

Culver’s spokesman, Brad Anderson, said Culver was not endorsing a particular approach to the tax, but was instead expressing a willingness to look at many possible approaches.

“He’s very respectful of the legislative process,” Anderson said.

The Iowa House is considering a proposal that would implement a statewide tax to replace the county-approved version of the tax, known as the School Infrastructure Local Option tax, or SILO. The change would make the tax permanent, ending the need for local voters to re-approve it every 10 years.

Rep. Roger Wendt, D-Sioux City, the lead sponsor of the bill, said there is no way the measure will include teacher salaries.

“That can’t happen,” he said.

Wendt has worked for years to put together a coalition of Democrats and Republicans large enough to pass the bill. If teacher salaries are included, most Republicans and some Democrats would drop their support.

House Minority Leader Christopher Rants, R-Sioux City, said Culver’s comments underscore Republicans’ concerns that the state government can’t be trusted to limit the use of the money.

“This is exactly what I’ve been afraid of,” Rants said.


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