Hawkeye Reporter

Hawkeye Reporter

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Iowans for Tax Relief claim cities still hide pay for lobbyists


Jan 17, 2020

Iowans for Tax Relief Facebook

Despite the passing of a bill targeting tax transparency, county and city payments to lobbyists could be even more transparent, according to a blog post by advocacy group Iowans for Tax Relief.

Iowa's Tax Awareness bill, which adds steps to the passing of city budgets, was signed into law in May 2019. But many cities, school districts and counties hire lobbyists to pursue their agendas in Iowa’s legislature, the group said. Lobbyists are hired via city associations and lobbying organizations like the Iowa League of Cities.

They pay for contracted lobbyists and association membership dues with taxes. Both costs, however, should fall under the common open records laws that apply to public employees and funds, the group said. The public should know how much is being spent on any government lobbying activity.

Iowans for Tax Relief fought for Iowa’s property tax transparency bill, which was signed into law last year. The bill requires public meetings for city and county councils discussing raising certain property taxes. It passed in spite of opposition from local governments and associations.

But communications from cities and counties to lobbyists still don’t appear in public records because lobbyists are not subject to open records laws. 

“It’s challenging to determine exactly how many property tax dollars are funding lobbying because the communications between local governments and their lobbyists are not transparent," Iowans for Tax Relief said.

If a city or county hires an employee to lobby, that employee would be subject to open records laws, but a contracted lobbyist is not. Lobbyists also work with legislators behind the scenes, and that means there aren’t any records on their activities, said Iowans for Tax Relief in the blog.

Ahead of last year’s elections, the group posted to Twitter to push people to ask local officials to freeze property taxes. The group suggested property owners call local city council members, county supervisors and school board members to get the message out.

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