In a week or so—February 1, to be exact—the voters in the Sioux City School District will go to the polls to vote on extending a $49 million levy put in place ten years ago to keep the district solvent when things were not so good. Today, things are not so good again. These off-year, off topic elections do not typically draw many voters. Thus, school districts mobilize their staffs, boards mobilize their supporters and teacher unions mobilize their members to ensure an affirmative outcome for raising taxes.
In the past, these special elections have sometimes drawn fewer than a thousand voters. Thus, the chief election officer has designated only one polling place in the entire city for voting. When only a thousand vote, one venue might be enough. But something else is going on, and what “that” is deserves some discussion.
For those Iowans who pay property taxes, 2010 was not a good year. The increase in property taxes last year sent a jolt through the electorate. One would not have to do too much analysis to see that increased taxes might have been one of many deciding factors for voters who lifted the Republican Party into the Governor’s mansion and to a majority in the Iowa House. Further fouling of the waters may have come in the executive action of the past governor in signing off on a pay raise for unionized state employees while the rest of the populous was still looking for that “recovery” thing.
In Sioux City, the school board is staring down the barrel of another increase in salaries for teachers while trying to figure out how they are going to overcome a projected half million dollar shortfall. In a $100 million plus budget, that does sound like much, but when one digs into the amount of money that would be delivered in the million levy referendum, the amount of money generated seems eerily close to that required to cover the increased salary costs.
The levy extension is supposed to help with capital projects and maintenance of facilities and equipment. Of course, the local one-cent option—exactly what that sales tax increase is supposed to cover—was approved several years ago and is still in place. Further, there have been significant staff increases of late, some positions paid for by one time money from irresponsible (and recently defeated) legislators in DC. So, going into this special election, there are a lot of questions for board members and administrators to answer.
Word started getting out about this election a few weeks ago. Lots of the questions posed here have been circulating around the community so the vote on the First of February is anything but a slam-dunk for the district. Why do I say that? Because as of last Friday, at least 4,500 absentee ballots have been requested and people are calling the local talk radio programs to air their thoughts. The best things about the discussion have been its civility and the balance. Each side is intelligently and thoughtfully expressing their views. What a country.
I think this interest is not so much about taxes as it is about people remaining engaged after a very heated and emotional election season in 2010. To me, this is one of the most encouraging things I have seen in 50 years of watching politics and such behavior bodes well for the Republican Party in 2012.
At the national level, the people of the nation are influencing legislative outcomes, particularly those championed by the Constitutional conservatives elected across the country. At the state level, our Republican legislators have shown great courage and decisiveness in their budget proposals and other initiatives. For the individual voters, they are showing that they are still engaged and are willing to express themselves at the ballot box.
Whenever one is given the opportunity to vote, one should exercise that right and privilege. Voting requires effort and in the Siouxland, a lot of folks are exerting that effort. Maybe now the Iowa House will take further steps to get a voter ID system in place to ensure each future vote is secure and really counts.
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