Iowans take pride in our state’s reputation as an agricultural powerhouse that feeds hundreds of millions of people every year at home and around the globe.
This time of the year, we marvel at the scenes of combines crisscrossing fields day and night bringing in another year’s crops. Those harvest pictures are something of a symbol of our state.
But Iowa’s image has suffered a serious blow because of problems with the state’s water.
It’s incongruous that a state known for its rural bounty and rural beauty is becoming known for its polluted rivers and lakes and for its popular beaches being off-limits for weeks because of unsafe water quality.
That’s one reason why a lawsuit is being closely watched as it makes its way through federal court in Iowa. It deals with the question of whether farms should be subject to water pollution regulations just as manufacturers and cities are.
Come January, the fight over water quality will be closely watched at the Iowa Capitol when the Legislature gathers. Lawmakers need to answer a couple of important questions:
Will 2017 be the year lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, finally agree on how to pay for cleaning up Iowa’s water, and will their compromise be acceptable to Gov. Terry Branstad?
Or will the problem with Iowa’s water get ignored for another year?
There are no easy solutions. Nor are the possible solutions going to be widely popular, because no one is eager to pay taxes.
It should be obvious by now that the state’s so-called nutrient reduction strategy is woefully inadequate in tackling the biggest environmental problem in Iowa in the past 100 years.
Instead of a concerted effort to clean up Iowa’s water, Branstad and ag interests want to rely on voluntary action to fix water quality problems. If voluntary action alone were enough, these problems never would have occurred.
Iowa cannot afford to take a go-slow approach to water quality. Other Midwest states are being more aggressive, and more effective, in dealing with their water quality issues.
Momentum has been building in Iowa for a tax increase to help pay for water quality improvements as public awareness of the magnitude of the problem grows.
The mayors of Iowa’s two largest cities, Des Moines and Cedar Rapids, along with the Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards, Iowa State Association of Counties, Iowa Soybean Association, Iowa Corn Growers Association and a host of environmental organizations support increasing the state sales tax by three-eighths of a cent to put revenue into the natural resources and outdoor recreation trust fund that voters created in 2010.
But there’s not even a nickel in the fund now. Although 63 percent of voters approved creating the trust fund, the Legislature and Branstad have refused to approve a sales tax increase that would provide revenue to fill the fund.
Such a sales tax increase would bring in an estimated $180 million a year, with the money going for water quality improvements and projects that benefit outdoor recreation. The three-eighths cent tax would cost consumers an extra 38 cents on every $100 purchase — although groceries and prescription drugs are not subject to the sales tax.
Branstad and many Republicans in the Legislature prefer to pay for cleaning up Iowa water by diverting money that now goes for other government purposes. That has been the deal-breaker for many Democrats. They don’t want other needs in Iowa to suffer.
The various sides of the issue have staked out their positions in comments in recent months.
The governor said, “I’m willing to look at options but not something that raises taxes.”
Cedar Rapids Mayor Ron Corbett, a likely Republican candidate for governor in 2018, said, “After six years of no action, it’s time to fill the [natural resources] fund and address water quality before judges or Washington, D.C., politicians impose a solution.”
Mark Langgin of Des Moines, director of Citizens for a Healthy Iowa, said, “Polling demonstrates that Iowans are willing to pay more for clean water through a three-eighths cent increase in the state sales tax, and we don’t have to take from other priorities to do so. Branstad’s stubborn unwillingness to consider the sales tax as an option demonstrates his clear lack of real commitment to resolving Iowa’s ongoing water quality problems.”
Langgin pointed out that the constitutional amendment creating the natural resources trust fund received 32,000 more votes in 2010 than Branstad received.
Democrats and Republicans have come together to address other problems facing the state. In 1998, the Legislature established a local option school sales tax to provide money for improvements to school buildings. In 2007, the 1-cent tax went statewide.
Iowans demonstrated then that they were willing to pay a higher sales tax to address an issue that concerned them, the quality of their schools. Voters showed their willingness to pay a higher sales tax when they overwhelmingly adopted the natural resources trust fund in 2010.
It’s time now for the Legislature and governor to carry out voters’ wishes and adopt the three-eighths cent sales tax increase and finally take concerted action to deal with water quality.
by Randy Evans
Reprinted from the Bloomfield Democrat