The School Infrastructure Local
Option Sales tax (SILO) is unfair
to low-income families
The School Infrastructure Local Option Sales tax (SILO) has
been placed on the February 13 ballot in Johnson County.
The ballot measures gives little thought to any specific need
for the funding and less to the harm it will bring to the most
economically vulnerable in Johnson County.
Why this tax?
It's hard to know. ?The School Board isn't exactly explicit. The
Board has provided a Comprehensive Facilities Improvement
Plan but the plan is alarmingly vague. For example, it
suggests a possible need for two new buildings and then
reveals that the growth in student enrollment (only 6.7% in
ten years) doesn't really justify this. ?It mentions Family
Resource Centers, but fails to show how families are helped
by an expansion of the District's physical plant.
In fact, within the report's vague physical plant wish-list,
there is not even consideration of non-physical provisions,
such as augmentation of programs for teaching and helping
Johnson County children from families the tax will hurt most.
The School Board admits it doesn't know why it
wants the tax.
Indeed the Board, itself, isn't sure how it wants to spend the
tax. ?In fact, the only specific expenditure stipulated in its
report is a fee for a consultant to tell them how to spend it.
Why this tax now?
The Board is specific about why it is asking for this tax now.
In its report and in public remarks, the Board states they
want the tax now so they don't have to share the tax
appropriations with other counties later. ?This sharing would
be required by state law if a sales tax law were passed after
July 1, 2008.
The aversion to sharing these appropriations is not an issue
if the sales tax is not passed. ?In addition, even if the
inherent greediness of the tax were not questionable by
itself, the self-indulgence denies the stake Johnson County
has in other county school districts, including Johnson
County foster care children the County has placed in those
The School Board has a year to justify this tax.
Where's the fire? There is no impending emergency that
requires this tax to be passed now. ?If the Board can make a
legitimate case for a need so urgent that the most regressive
tax it can avail is necessary, it has a year to do this. ?The tax
could be replaced on the ballot as late May, 2008, in order
for the tax to meet the "we don't want to share" deadline. ?
And, that's assuming the Iowa Legislature won't change this
deadline, which it may.
Why is this a Regressive Tax?
A regressive tax is a tax with a rate that decreases as the
taxpayer's income increases. The result of a regressive tax
is that the lower-income taxpayer pays a larger percentage
of his or her income in taxes than does the higher-income
taxpayer. The opposite of the regressive tax is the
progressive tax. With progressive taxes, such as the federal
income tax, the effective tax rates increase as the taxpayer's
income increases. Sales tax is considered the most
Toiletries (including soap and toilet tissue), prepared food
(the occasional ice cream cone), new clothing, bedding,
school supplies, pet food, first-aid supplies, repair bills, and
non-prescription medication. ?The most conservative
estimate is that a family with an income of $15,000 will spend
$6800 on taxable items. ?The tax takes an extra $68 dollars
from that family each year. ?While this may not seem like
much, it means giving up something significant to this family. ?
It also means six (more if you pay child care) more hours of
away from your family if you must work more to recover the
The brutality of a sales tax is that it creates real hardship
and sacrifice for those most struggling and has no palpable
impact on affluent families.
Isn't Property Tax just as regressive?
No, although property tax can be regressive and create a
hardship on property owners who are low-income. It's still
less regressive than a sales tax. This is also pointed out in
policy author Peter Fisher in a recent opinion in the Iowa City
Press Citizen. (Even $10 less is $10 to use for family needs.)
Moreover, the regressive burden of a property tax could be
alleviated. ?E.g. ?lawmakers could create a tax code with
exemptions for those with low or fixed incomes. ?In any case,
low-income people will still be more deprived by a sales tax
than a property tax.
What about property tax relief?
Part of the measure stipulates the funds will be used for
"property tax relief." ?Assuming this simply means they'll raise
property taxes if they can't get the sales, there is no plan nor
evidence that those on low income will benefit from this
"relief" more than those who are wealthy. ?In fact, at face
value, just opposite would be true.
Aren't sales tax or property tax the only options?
No. ?The Board can lobby the Iowa Legislature for increased
appropriations for education. ?With the new trifecta
Democratic leadership, the Board is likely to find a
sympathetic ear. ?At least it has a year to try.
The Board can also strengthen its Foundation
(http://www.iccsdfoundation.org)/ ?The Johnson County
community is remarkable affluent and has the resources to
step to the plate and support the School District in this much
The Iowa City School Board needs to have a better rationale
for this tax than "get it while you can." ?It has the time to do
this, and until it does, vote "No."
Early Voting/Satellite Schedule
Shaw opinion in Iowa City Press Citizen
Say No to Silo web site
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Iowa City Public Library