The legislative session is off and running and, as is usually the case, the budget will be the defining issue of the session. The budget will drive the debate around the significant issues decided by the legislature; from education to Medicaid to the environment.
Governor Branstad kicked off the legislative session with a proposal to address Iowa’s water quality concerns. His plan involves using money from the state-wide one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure, called the Secured and Advanced Vision for Education (SAVE), to fund projects and initiatives outlined in Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. The bill to accomplish this was recently released, HSB 601.
It is refreshing to hear the Governor acknowledge that we have a serious water quality problem that will require significant public and private investments to address. The good news is that the dialogue has begun and there is a lot of conversation about water quality at the Capitol. The challenging news is that his proposal could impact our friends in education and it only addresses nutrient reduction and no other natural resource concerns. Beyond that, under the Governor’s proposal, significant dollars are not allocated towards water quality until well into the future. The longer we wait, the more expensive it will be to accomplish our water quality goals. We need to address this issue now, with a funding source that is immediate, substantial and permanent.
We look forward to working with the legislature and the Governor to arrive at a compromise that meets all of our needs. INHF continues to advocate for funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund as the best vehicle to address our water quality issues. Beyond supporting conservation practices on private land, funding from the Trust Fund would focus resources on practices with multiple benefits that not only help clean the water, but offer funding for quality of life initiatives such as lake restoration, wildlife habitat and trails. When a majority of Iowans approved the creation of the Trust Fund, they did so with an understanding that outdoor recreation would also be prioritized. Learn more about the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.
Both bills introduced in 2015 to fund the Trust Fund are still alive and eligible for debate. They are: SF 504 , sponsored by Senator Bolkcom and championed by Senators Johnson and Hogg. This bill, which provides for a straight up sales tax increase, made it through the Senate Ways and Means Committee last year. HSB 256 was filed by Representative Sands just prior to adjournment last year. This bill phases in the sales tax increase over three years to fund the Trust Fund, and pairs the increase with a decrease in income tax. The bill also changes the allocation formula.
The Governor’s proposed budget provides for status quo funding levels for both the DNR and IDALS. Line items of particular interest to us are: REAP is proposed at $16 million, the Parks Foundation is provided $2 million, park Infrastructure is proposed at $3 million (a cut of $2 million), and trails are proposed to receive $2.5 million (a $900,000 cut from $3.4 million last year). We will be working with appropriators as the House, Senate and Governor strive to find common ground and consensus, and will work to ensure that our priorities are reflected in the budgeting process.
Hold on to your hats, it’s bound to be an interesting legislative session!
The best way to let your legislator know that Iowans support conservation and water quality issues is by contacting them. Find your legislator here, and send an email or call to voice your support for bills and programs listed above. Find sample emails and phone call outlines here.
Find a legislative forum in your area. We can help if you need background information to prepare for a conversation with your legislator. Email Marian Riggs Gelb, INHF policy director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.