Iowa Chambers Of Commerce Urge Action On Workforce And Tax Reform In 2020

Dec 18, 2019

A group representing Iowa’s largest chambers of commerce is urging lawmakers to take steps to grow the state’s workforce and restructure the tax system in the next legislative session.

Iowa has one of the nation’s lowest unemployment rates, and businesses often struggle to find qualified workers. According to Dustin Miller, executive director of the Iowa Chamber Alliance, many people stop looking for work because they can’t find, or afford, childcare. He hopes to see a push to focus economic development programs on improving childcare access and quality.

“It’s about entrepreneurs,” Miller said. “How do you get more people into the childcare industry and how do you help the people in the childcare industry have the employees that they need?”

The Iowa Chamber Alliance also supports recommendations from Gov. Kim Reynolds' criminal justice reform committee aimed at growing the workforce. That includes improving education and training programs so more people are ready to work when they leave the prison system.

If lawmakers raise the state sales tax to fund conservation, Miller said a portion of the revenue should go toward community improvement projects and tax reform.

Lawmakers are considering increasing the state portion of the sales tax from 6 to 7 cents. If that happens, a ballot initiative passed by voters in 2010 requires three-eighths of the revenue to go toward conservation and water quality, leaving a debate over how to use the other five-eights.

Miller said part of the proceeds should be used to offset other taxes to help businesses compete with neighboring states with lower sales tax rates. “We have members competing across the river in South Dakota at 4.5 cents,” he said. “So how do you balance those sorts of things?”

Iowa Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver, R-Ankeny, has said Senate Republicans will not support a sales tax increase unless it is part of an overall tax reduction.

Gov. Reynolds has said the revenue could be used to fund mental health services.

Democrats have expressed interest in funding conservation programs but have said they are also concerned about how an increase in the sales tax would impact low-income Iowans.