After last summer’s derecho storm brought wind gusts over 100 mph, devastating much of central and eastern Iowa’s crops, infrastructure and foliage, GOP lawmakers are continuing to move a bill forward which would raise property taxes on privately-owned forests in the state.
Ninety-three Iowans who participated Monday on a Zoom subcommittee meeting were overwhelmingly opposed to the bill which was not signed but advanced by Republican Sen. Ken Rozenboom and Sen. Amy Sinclair to have an additional subcommittee meeting.
Lobbyists, private citizens and forest owners said the legislation, which would cut tax breaks on forest and fruit-tree reserves and restrict which land qualifies for exemptions, would have damaging effects on landowners who are trying to recover from the August storm.
“The derecho wiped out so much of our woodlands and forests this summer. This bill is a GOP derecho—it’s going to try and take care of the rest of the trees that are damaged,” said Iowa City Democrat Sen. Joe Bolkcom at the subcommittee meeting.
“I cannot for the life of me understand why we’re raising property taxes on the private managers of Iowa’s woodlands and forests after what they’ve endured this summer with the derecho. It seems to me this is just more grievance politics … that Republicans want to take it out on people that are doing good work.”
According to the United States Forest Service, the derecho affected over 1.3 million acres of forest in east-central Iowa and will have “lasting impacts on forest structure and urban canopy.” Over 85% of Iowa’s nearly 3 million acres of forest is privately owned, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources estimates.
#ForestFactFriday The derecho that hit Iowa affected over 1.3 million acres of forest in east central Iowa and will have lasting impacts on forest structure and urban canopy. pic.twitter.com/h1v1bvhVmO
— USFS Eastern Region (@usfs_r9) March 5, 2021
John Zakrasek, who owns two acres in Linn County, said at the subcommittee that the legislation would be disastrous for him after the storms. Under the new rule, anyone who owns less than 10 acres would not be subject to any exemption.
“When this derecho came through, we lost 80% of our trees. They were massive, most of them 80 feet tall, and 24 inches or more in diameter. And I have an estimate to clean up the property and just replant– $70,000,” said Zakrasek.
“So here I am, down on the ground, suffering in front of the derecho and you’re going to kick me in the teeth with a tax increase that creeps in at 100% of evaluation of the land, effective Jan. 1 2022. I’m very disturbed by this and upset and would expect to get additional help instead of a tax burden for all I’ve done.”
The only speaker in support of the legislation was from the Iowa Farm Bureau. Sen. Dawson said he authored the bill, which has been a topic making its way through the Legislature for several sessions, to weed out “bad actors” who want to avoid property taxes.
Bolkcom at the end of the meeting questioned the legislation in light of the other “extreme” bills moving through the GOP-controlled Legislature this session,
“I know you don’t like public universities, I know you don’t like people voting, I know you don’t like Twitter and Facebook, but I would never have guessed you don’t like trees. This is a bad bill, we should not move it forward,” he said.
by Isabella Murray
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