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Iowa Districts Ready Tax Hikes Without Public Vote

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A quarter or more of Iowa's school districts may try to take advantage this year of a unique new law that enables them to raise both property and income taxes without a public vote, a state education official said last week.

Richard F. Boyer, assistant chief of the education department's bureau of school administration and accreditation, said district officials have been crowding into state-sponsored workshops on the law, called ''the instructional-support program," to find out how to take advantage of it in time for the 1991-92 fiscal year.

"The boards have never had the ability to try to do this sort of revenueraising without a vote of the people before," Mr. Boyer said. "The school-board members are scrambling to find ways to raise more money."

The law, which was adopted by the legislature a year ago, takes effect next month. It allows school boards to vote, without a public referendum, to increase their instructional budgets by up to 10 percent for up to five years by increasing property taxes, charging an income surtax, or both.

If school boards opt to hold a referendum before passing a tax increase, the additional taxes can be approved for up to 10 years.

If the budget and tax increases are approved without a public vote, however, taxpayers will have the8right to launch a petition drive to place a referendum on the ballot to roll back the tax hike.

John L. Myers, education-program director for the National Conference of State Legislatures, said at least six other states allow districts to levy increased property taxes without a referendum, but no other state also allows districts to establish an income surtax without voter approval.

Mr. Boyer estimated, on the basis of his experience with workshops on the instructional-support program, that more than 100 of Iowa's 431 local school boards will attempt to seek a tax increase by Dec. 1, the deadline for final passage of such measures for the 1991-92 fiscal year.

Among them is the Des Moines school board, which is considering an income surtax of roughly 2 percent and an additional property tax of $1.36 per $1,000 valuation.

The district is facing a projected $4.35-million deficit in the 1991-92 fiscal year, according to a spokesman.

Richard Vohs, a spokesman for Gov. Terry E. Branstad, said the widespread use of the instructional-support program "was anticipated4when the law into effect." Few objections were raised, he said, because the law is "designed to help districts meet their goals of higher standards of education."

But Edward D. Failor, executive director of Iowans for Tax Relief, a citizens' organization that had opposed giving school boards the new taxing power, expressed confidence that most state residents will be able to avert excessive local tax increases by using their referendum power.

The law calls for a referendum to be held if petitions for one are signed by 100 district residents or 30 percent of the number of voters in the last election--whichever number is larger--within 28 days after the budget increase is approved.

Mr. Failor said his organization has been distributing pamphlets to guide residents in their roll-back efforts.

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