Increase sales tax?

EDITORIALS

BY ART CULLEN

Republicans controlling the Iowa Legislature are talking about an interesting idea to increase the state sales tax by a penny to be split between mental health services and natural resources. They have to do something to control property tax increases in rural counties to cover mental health costs. Republicans take it as a religious issue that income taxes will not be increased. That leaves them with the sales tax.

Increasing the sales tax would put Iowa at 8%, the highest in the Midwest. We have been shifting the tax burden for many years from income taxes to sales taxes, which are more regressive in that the poor pay a disproportionately high share. Iowa will be at a competitive disadvantage to its neighbors.

Three-eighths of the penny increase would go to natural resources. Iowa voters approved of a Constitutional amendment providing for the fractional sales tax by a strong majority 10 years ago. They believed it would lead to an increase in natural resource funding. The legislature never took action. Now, Republicans say they will consider it as part of a tax relief package. That suggests that the sales tax might just replace the existing stream of revenue to natural resources. Or, they could allow natural resource funding to grow by $115 million per year, which would be significant, and get buy-in from Democrats on sales taxes funding mental health services.

Voters will not be happy if their clear intention to increase natural resources funding is ignored.

Of course, the real solution to the mental health funding problem is universal health coverage that includes comprehensive mental health services.

Gov. Kim Reynolds has not made her position known, and legislators are not all on board. This is in the trial balloon phase, but things can move quickly once legislators convene this month. Clearly, legislators want to do “tax relief.”

Endless war

The events in the Mideast this week hold the possibility of changing the Democratic presidential nomination debate in big ways. President Trump said Wednesday that Iran appears to be “standing down,” after it hit two of our bases in Iraq on Tuesday. Don’t count on it. The idea of endless war in the Mideast helped get Trump elected, and might help lead to his undoing.

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont took after former Vice President Joe Biden over supporting the Iraq war predicated on a fraud. “Joe Biden voted and helped lead the effort for the war in Iraq, the most dangerous foreign policy blunder in the modern history of the country,” Sanders told CNN.

His critique of Hillary Clinton’s penchant for war nearly won him the Democratic nomination four years ago. Iowa Democratic caucus-goers have a strong anti-war bent that runs deep in our culture. The unraveling of any sort of stability in the Mideast is bound to put attention on Sanders’s clarity and consistency on the issue.

Already, Sanders is at or near the top of the Democratic field in Iowa and New Hampshire. His support appears to be growing in recent weeks. Americans want to extract our troops from the Mideast, but Trump in recent weeks has been sending thousands more in — including to Saudi Arabia, one of the most corrupt regimes in the world. This is likely to help Sanders and hurt Biden in particular.

Much of the presidential debate so far has centered around Medicare for All, supported by Sanders and Elizabeth Warren — another critic of endless war who wants to remove our troops from the region.

Now the discussion is turning to the Mideast and what justifies our presence there, other than oil. Iran will make certain that the topic remains at the center of the debate leading up to the general election in November. It could reshape the race.

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