Feb 29, 2024 - Politics

Republican trifecta eroding local government, Iowa Dems say

Illustration of the Iowa State Capitol dome, split in half with one side red and one side blue.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

More than four dozen laws that were passed under Iowa's Republican trifecta since 2017 limit or block the powers of locally elected officials in schools, cities and counties, according to a list tracked by Democrats and shared with Axios.

Why it matters: Local control is a concept that governments should have power to respond to their specific community needs.

Reality check: Both state parties have been accused of diminishing local control in past decades, Peter Orazem, an economist at Iowa State University and former Ames city councilperson, tells Axios.

  • While Democrats and Republicans may have different reasons for their actions, the progressive move is to limit the ability of local governments to run their own affairs, he said.

Catch up fast: City and county governments are granted "home rule" in Iowa's constitution, or the power to regulate themselves.

Yes, but: Restrictions prohibit local governments from taxing beyond what is "expressly authorized" by the legislature.

Zoom in: Bills introduced this year could alter how public libraries are operated, prohibit regulating siding on buildings and further restrict how some county supervisor districts are decided.

  • Last year's new laws included a ban against transgender people using school bathrooms that align with their gender identity.

Flashback: Democrats were criticized for failure to give local governments more control to regulate hog lots when they held an Iowa trifecta in 2007.

What they're saying: Local control restrictions can prohibit innovation by micromanaging cities to act the same way regardless of their size or unique situations, Sen. Janice Weiner, (D-Iowa City) and ranking member of the Senate Local Government Committee, tells Axios.

  • Plus, there are economic consequences because some restrictions can force local governments to heavily rely on property taxes rather than diversifying revenue sources through other taxes or fees, Orazem says.
  • Sen. Jesse Green (R-Boone), chairperson of the local government committee, did not return our requests for comment.
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