If you ever wondered how truly leery state lawmakers and local elected officials are over raising taxes, you should have been at today’s meeting of the board of the Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority. 

The panel spent an hour and seven minutes discussing whether to ask state lawmakers to give the DART commission the authority — if it chose to at some point — to raise property taxes more than state law now allows.

Eventually, commissioners voted to ask lawmakers to raise the cap on DART’s property taxes, or to allow them to use four different levies that routinely are available to municipal transit systems, but aren’t to DART. They didn’t vote to raise taxes. 

Why aren’t those other city levies, such as for debt service or liability, available to DART already? Because DART was created by a state law, and is the only such transit authority in the state at the moment. Many others are branches of city governments.

For some reason, state lawmakers set aside home rule long enough to set a property tax limit for this type of new transit authority. 

With Ankeny and West Des Moines leading the charge, DART commissioners worried aloud about the political implications of raising taxes — or being seen as interested in raising taxes. Which the commission is, out of necessity, at least to some degree, if other sources of revenue can’t be found. 

DART studies have shown that without new revenue, the current services can’t be sustained over the next few decades, let alone the expanded system millennials and others have demanded. But no decision has been made to raise taxes — the commissioners want that clear — and there has been some relatively minor fundraising from private companies to help out. 

Continue reading for commissioners’ predictions of political fallout. Read more