November 5 Ballot Measure: Tax Levy Increase for Des Moines Schools

The Des Moines School Board wants voters to approve raising the levy for the building fund to its legal limit. The school board claims this will not raise taxes. Instead, other levies will be reduced. It is all about moving money around, but there is nothing stopping the board from raising the other levies next year, or the next, or any time in the 10 years before voters have to reauthorize the extra 71 cents on $1,000 of property valuation being proposed this year.

What if you don’t want to raise the PPEL levy to the maximum amount of $1.67? You say you won’t vote for the increase on November 5, 2019? Just remember, this year’s ballot measure not only raises the tax to the maximum allowed by state law, it also is a renewal vote for the levy increase passed by voters 9 years ago. What’s that? You say why are we voting to re-authorize the levy rate of 9 years ago if we have 10 years to reauthorize? Oh, so the school board could bring the matter before voters in March and/or November 2020 if it does not like the results on November 5, 2019?

Once raised, do you think Des Moines Public Schools will want to give up the new tax rate? Remember how that one-cent school tax was to have lasted until the early 2020’s? It has been extended to 2051. Have you heard all the comments worrying how college students are paying for student loans? Compare that to a child born in Iowa in 2019 who will be 32 years old when the school tax expires. That is a lot of sales tax money spent on diapers for the 2019 new born and all the diapers that 2019 child will spend on his or her own children. Yes, newborn, you will be paying for your pre-school education even when you have children in middle school.

What is PPEL? It is the Physical Plant and Equipment Levy. State law limits how PPEL funds can be spent. According to a flyer provided to voters by the Des Moines Public Schools to promote the tax levy increase, “PPEL can be used to improve school buildings and grounds, purchase technology and safety equipment, implement energy conservation measures, and buy items such as school busses and musical instruments.”

The School Board argues that other districts have set their PPEL levies at the maximum rate. If everyone else is doing it, we must do it, too, is an argument the Board has stated. Wait a minute, didn’t your parents tell you just because everyone else is doing something does not mean you need to do the same thing? Here is another point, when Polk County Libertarians took a look at levy rates earlier this year, we noted the amount of property taxes paid to schools in the Des Moines district was among the highest of the districts in the county.

The flyer from the Public Schools also claims the district “is receiving 40% less revenue than it could when compared to our neighbors,” because of the PPEL rate being below the maximum. But if the cash reserve and management levies are correspondingly reduced, would not the result still be 40% less revenue than it could receive?

This ballot measure if passed will not cost you any more money is the argument from the school board. But if the money can be spent already from the general fund, why max out the levy and reduce the general fund? The revenue would still be the same. The result should still be the same, except school budgets are a shell game. If the state has to tell school districts they need levies for each part of their budget, e.g., management, cash reserves, buildings, and a sales tax for buildings and technology, and then determines how much money the schools can have from the state each year or two, where is the local control? 

Vote November 5, 2019. Then, join the Polk County Libertarians for our monthly meetings and discussion group as we work to bring transparency to government, reduce taxation, and elect Libertarians to office to help you have more control over your choices and money.

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