Legislators talk mortgage registration fee

News editor

State Rep. John Barker and State Sen. Clark Shultz met with voters Saturday at Marion Chamber of Commerce’s legislative coffee, and a bill to repeal the state’s mortgage registration fee was a popular topic of conversation.

Shultz said in his opening remarks that bank and real estate trade groups are lobbying to repeal the fee, but it would cause a budget crunch for counties. Marion County has received about $97,000 on average from the fee over the past seven years.

Todd Heitschmidt asked how the state would replace that revenue for counties. Shultz said one early idea being discussed is to change the fee to being based on the amount of paperwork a mortgage or deed requires to be filed, instead of based on the amount borrowed. He said he didn’t think that version would pass.

Former State Rep. Bob Brookens asked why people suddenly thought the fee was unfair after it worked for decades.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Brookens said.

Barker said he thought it had been unfair all along, but it hadn’t been much of an issue until recently when people started refinancing mortgages more often.

Shultz said the reason it’s unfair is because refinancing at the same bank doesn’t require paying the fee again. But if a borrower changes banks during refinancing, they have to pay the fee again, giving an unfair advantage to the original bank.

Business or social issues

Another member of the audience asked when the legislature would turn its focus to improving the business climate instead of focusing on social issues.

Shultz agreed the legislature needs to focus more on business, but that it is already working on things. He said social issues take on a life of their own when they become news.

Barker noted that a bill about spanking never had a chance of passing, but it got blown out of proportion by national TV news stations.

City election timing

City administrator Roger Holter asked Barker what he thought would happen with a bill to move city and school board elections to November and possibly make them partisan. Shultz had left by that point to attend another speaking engagement.

Barker said the logic behind moving local elections to November would be to increase voter turnout. Statewide, city election turnout is very poor, he said.

He said his biggest concern would be keeping city and school board elections nonpartisan. He said such local elections depend much more on the person than party affiliation. However, some groups in Johnson County and other populous parts of the state are seeking to make local elections partisan.

In other discussion:

  • Barker said a proposed “fair tax” consumption tax will not pass. He said the transition period from the current tax structure would be too volatile.
  • Amy Kjellin of Butler Community College of Marion asked about community college funding. Barker said he thought the state should encourage more students to attend community college and technical schools to learn skills they can quickly put to use earning a living. Many of those skills are things that lead to small businesses, he said.
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