Iowa economic development director: Invest in Iowa Act likely dead for this session

Walkers visit city-owned Gray's Lake Park on April 1, 2020. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa’s economic development director on Thursday said the governor’s signature plan to boost spending on mental health, outdoor recreation and water quality appears to be dead for this session.

The Invest in Iowa Act, which calls for a one-cent increase in the state sales taxes and offsetting cuts in property taxes, was at the top of Gov. Kim Reynolds’ priorities before the coronavirus outbreak shut down the Legislature temporarily.

“I do not see how that survives when the Legislature has asked us when they come back to only tell them from our agendas within the departments absolutely what we need, and it needs to be something quick,” said Debi Durham, director of the Iowa Economic Development Authority and the Iowa Finance Authority. “I think they are going to get in and clean up their business and get out of there.

“I don’t know how that survives this legislative session,” Durham said. “That is my personal opinion.”

She spoke at a webinar for business leaders arranged by the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Her comments came in a side conversation in a session that focused primarily on the state’s efforts to help businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Jay Byers, CEO of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, said the sales tax increase could be a source of stimulus money in the future. “It’s just a thought,” Byers said.

Durham said some federal aid being considered “and not really on anyone’s radar right now” could help with water quality projects and other work that would have been covered under the Invest in Iowa Act. The Iowa legislation was expected to provide $155 million or more for conservation, water quality and outdoor recreation work. That project was based on sales tax data before COVID-19 disrupted many businesses.

Reynolds said recently that she still supports the Invest in Iowa Act, but has turned her attention to addressing the COVID-19 crisis.