Our obligation

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Advocates for a new early childhood education center got an earful from critics at a public hearing last week about cost, need and tax rates. It was good to air out concerns that no doubt many in Storm Lake harbor about the $29 million project — more like $40 million when you add in interest costs over the life of the bonds, paid off by property taxes. It will result in a tax hike of more than $100 per year on the average home. People notice that.

This will not be an easy bond election on Dec. 11. It will require a vote of 60% support. It’s not easy to muster a simple majority for a property tax increase. Turnouts for special elections are notoriously low and impossible to predict (if any election can be). People have been so focused on other elections perhaps they have not paid much attention to this bond issue.

Yet, most people know that Storm Lake’s school enrollment is growing. Our facilities are out of space. East School and the Gingerbread House are not exactly modern early-childhood facilities. We have to do something, and those ticky tacky portable classrooms are hardly the answer.

Sometimes you just need to suck it up, as they did in the 1920s when they built the glorious former Storm Lake High School on Cayuga Street. It was built like Fort Knox. It was not cheapened by tax protestors, and that is why the building is so strong it will be converted into apartments.

And, there remains a prospect that the property tax bonds could be replaced by sales tax bonds if the Iowa Legislature can get its act together. The high school and elementary school were built with sales taxes until the legislature last session let that program expire. There is no question that the sales tax enjoys bipartisan support but became the victim of election-year staging. It is not dead yet, just not extended, so it should be fairly easy for legislators, no matter who is in control, to quietly allow the school sales tax to resume. Voters in Storm Lake overwhelmingly have approved of the school sales tax twice. Legislators should take note.

If the sales tax is extended next legislative session, there is no question that the school board would refinance the project using sales tax revenue bonds. Voters can have that faith that their property will be protected if the school board can swing it. The board kept its promises on property tax rate reduction or stability. Storm Lake has not witnessed big increases. The board has earned that trust.

We have to know that if an alternative to property taxes can be found, it will be. And we have to trust that enough rural districts will convince their legislators that the sales tax is needed for them to keep up, on limited resources.

We have only one choice: If Storm Lake is to adequately house its growing school enrollment we must provide modern facilities. Property taxes at this point are the only way to finance it. We have been able to avoid property tax hikes on our last two major building projects — the elementary school and the high school. In that context, it is not asking too much for voters to approve this request. We simply must respond to the call as a community to educate our children in a proper environment, despite our aversion to property tax increases.

Watch, don’t listen

President Trump has advised us not to listen to what he says, but to watch what he does. He says that he is about to patch things up with Chinese leader Xi Jinping to end a burgeoning trade war that is killing Iowa ag export markets. They have talked on the phone. They are to meet at the end of the month. But in remarks Monday Xi challenged the United States, implying that China cannot be cowed.

“As globalization depends, the practices of the law of the jungle and winner take all are a dead end. The Chinese economy is a sea, not a pond. Storms can overturn a pond, but never a sea,” Xi said at a trade fair in Shanghai.

His speech does not sound like the cheery telephone conversation Trump described. So, ignore that. Watch what actually happens. There is no end of the trade war in sight so long as each party thinks it serves them politically. Who gets hurt by low corn and soybean prices? Not necessarily the Chinese, who feed hogs through Smithfield in the United States. Not the global grain traders. Farmers do. And they don’t count for that much in the politics of all this. The trade war will be settled when it suits the domestic politics of Trump and Xi. We are not a part of that calculus.