Dubuque Telegraph Herald. August 7, 2022.
Editorial: Iowa tax holiday should extend to school supplies, most everything else
After more than 20 years of administering Iowa’s sales tax holiday weekend in the same way, state officials do not appear interested in making the arrangement more palatable and sensible for consumers.
Nevertheless, it bears repeating: Having tax-free days on the first Friday and Saturday of August is a pretty nice advantage for parents getting ready to send kids back to school or off to college.
Parents in the area are stocking up on school clothes and gym shoes and everything else that goes along with back-to-school shopping. A 7% break on back-to-school staples is welcome — especially when families are paying more for food and gas and just about everything else.
But the arrangement could go from good to great and send shoppers into stores, boosting the economy, if the rules weren’t so, well, weird.
Most consumers’ biggest complaint about the sales tax holiday is figuring out when it applies and when it doesn’t. The list of what meets the criteria and what doesn’t is something only politicians or bureaucrats could compose.
Belts are tax-free. Belt buckles are not.
Golf shirts are tax-free. Golf shoes are not.
Cowboy boots are tax-free. Fishing waders are not.
It’s pretty tough to intuit what makes the tax-free list.
Prom dresses, chef’s uniforms, costumes, adult diapers and steel-toed boots are tax-exempt.
Backpacks, football pants, ballet slippers, umbrellas and helmets are not.
Good luck trying to find the logic in that system.
Here’s a suggestion: If we really want to get people shopping and help out parents as well as retailers, how about making school supplies tax-free? How about all the backpacks and lunchboxes and duffel bags that parents are buying this month?
Here’s another suggestion: What if everything that isn’t food and costs less than $100 were tax-free? Wouldn’t that be easier to remember?
Of course, every tax dollar not collected is a tax dollar not hitting state and local coffers. There’s that much less money for schools and streets and such. But, while it’s understandable that government imposes some limits on this “holiday,” the current ground rules appear arbitrary and random.
Expanding the list of exemptions could give parents an even bigger break while bolstering the retail sector. Have you priced school supplies lately? All those pencils and notebooks add up. Throw in dorm-room supplies, and we’re talking about a significant expense.
After years of not offering a tax holiday, Illinois has one-upped Iowa and now offers a 10-day one. That really gives consumers a break. Wisconsin tried out a five-day tax-free holiday in 2018 on a measure approved by then-Gov. Scott Walker. But Gov. Tony Evers has not followed suit. That’s too bad.
Call it a “state stimulus” — this is a great way to keep a little money in the pocketbooks of local families.
Here’s something you might not know: Even if you’re an Iowan on vacation and not available to shop today and Saturday, you can still take advantage of the savings. According to the Iowa Department of Revenue, items purchased by mail order, catalog or online are exempt if they are: 1) Delivered during the exemption period, or 2) Ordered and paid for during the exemption period, regardless of delivery date.
So, go get your coveralls, your shoe inserts, your aprons and your lingerie — all of it is tax-free. And maybe by next year, Iowa will have uncomplicated the rules and made all goods under a certain dollar limit tax-free.
That really would give shoppers and retailers something to cheer about.
Des Moines Register. August 7, 2022.
Editorial: Will public education in Iowa wither, or thrive?
The effectiveness of our schools influences all aspects of life in Iowa, producing leaders and innovators and all manner of other workers who will determine the state’s future prosperity.
With the annual sales tax holiday now behind us, many Iowa schoolchildren may have their outfits ready for their first day of class in a couple of weeks.
The only thing they might still be missing: a teacher.
Difficulty filling classrooms is not unique to a single district or region or state. Warnings of an eventual American teacher shortage date at least to the Great Recession. Experts have noted for years that the number of people training to become teachers wasn’t keeping pace with enrollment projections.
Heading into this fall, the shortage is now an urgent problem in spots throughout the country. The Washington Post reported last week that some states and districts have drastically reduced credential requirements or made plans to combine multiple classrooms in a gymnasium so that fewer adults could supervise “learning.”
The tactics in Iowa, so far, haven’t appeared quite so dramatic. Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising was the Des Moines school district’s move in May to offer some veteran instructors over $50,000 in their retirement accounts to hang on through the 2022-23 school year — quite a twist on more familiar early retirement incentives, something Des Moines has also used liberally over the years. Axios Des Moines reported that almost 60 people had signed up for “later” retirement.
Education is, of course, hardly the only sector with a labor shortage. And in the short run, we’re confident every Iowa district will make the compromises it needs to forge on dollars and qualifications to make school feasible as classes begin.
But education stands out from the woes of retailers and other for-profit employers. The effectiveness of our schools influences all aspects of life in Iowa, producing leaders and innovators and all manner of other workers who will determine the state’s future prosperity.
And while the staffing challenges confronting administrators and school boards right now are important, they represent not so much a fire to be put out and forgotten as a symptom of alarming instability in Iowa’s system of public education:
— Relative to peers in other states, Iowa students perform worse than they did decades ago.
— State spending increases for public schools have been meager — and while nobody argues that school districts always spend all their money wisely, common accusations of administrative bloat and departures from core-subject lessons discount the ways schools have gotten better at serving children with disabilities and at identifying and trying to reduce other inequities.
— Many advocates for allowing parents and guardians to direct taxpayer money toward private K-12 expenses can’t seem to help at least implicitly portraying public schools as dangerous, hopeless, even malicious cesspools.
— And some influential Iowans leave nothing to the imagination, such as Iowa Senate President Jake Chapman in his famous declaration in January of a “sinister agenda” of some teachers to, among other things, disguise “sexually obscene material as desired subject matter.”
The reasons for teacher shortages are complex, and efforts to identify themes risk mislabeling anecdotes as data. But the negative feedback certainly doesn’t help.
The coming months will give Iowans several chances either to pull away more supports and risk further decay, or to invest their cooperation and resources into teaching.
— In November, voters can choose state representatives and senators who campaign that they’ll use their finite time at the Capitol to help shape great public education, not to prop up religious schools.
— Starting in January, those representatives and senators, and the Iowa Department of Education, can continue work to attract both young and mid-career Iowans to education. Legislators considered several ideas on these fronts in 2021. One good idea already being implemented is an initiative using American Rescue Plan Act money to set up pilot programs that will help high school students and adults work in classrooms while simultaneously earning paraeducator certificates and college degrees.
— Money talks, and the inflation that has dominated political discussion in both major parties this year should not be forgotten when it comes to setting state spending on schools next year.
— Parents and others can go out of their way to tell teachers, associates, bus drivers, principals and other staff members when they’re doing great work and that their effort is always appreciated.
One prospective result of all this? Educators, newly bolstered, can focus more of their energy on learning and achievement.