The Iowa House of Representatives passed a piece of legislation Monday night that misses the boat for addressing water quality and other environmental needs associated with it.
Representatives voted 65-33 to redirect $540 million over 13 years to tackle about 10 percent of the state’s $4 billion to $5 billion water quality problem.
The bill, if passed by the Senate, would divert two current sources of income — the tax collected on drinking water deposited in the General Fund and the Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund (RIIF). The RIIF revenue is needed for building repairs and renovation, maintenance, site development, recreational trails and bonded projects at board of regents’ institutions.
“Robbing Peter to pay Paul for reducing nutrients is a bad idea,” said Debbie Neustadt, legislative chair of the Iowa Chapter of the Sierra Club. “This legislation comes without a guarantee that future legislators will continue to provide the funding from these two sources.”
Funding water quality through RIIF and the drinking water tax may sound to some like a good idea, but the Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club believes there are better alternatives.
“This is just a drop in the bucket,” Neustadt said, Iowa Chapter director. “The bill includes no accountability, goals, benchmarks, monitoring or timelines. It takes away sorely needed resources for buildings and includes nothing for wildlife habitat, flood protection or parks and open spaces.”
Iowa voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in 2010 that would dedicate 3/8 of one cent to the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. The Trust Fund would allow increased investment in Iowa’s parks, recreation and clean water. Calculations indicate the minute increase would generate between $150 million and $180 million per year.
The Iowa Chapter of Sierra Club supports the funding provided by a 3/8 of one cent sales tax increase so those funds can begin to be deposited into the Trust Fund.
“Yes, we need to reduce nitrogen in our drinking water through a science-based approach,” Neustadt said. “But the funding must be sustainable so Iowans can be assured that year after year there will be money in the Fund. There should also be strings attached that include water quality monitoring so improvements are verifiable.”
Iowans approved the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund almost six years ago. No deposits have been made into the fund. Senate File 504, a bill that would increase the sales tax by 3/8 of one cent, has stalled in the Senate Ways and Means Committee. It is the best option for the Senate to consider and the sooner the better.