Iowa bill to boost state sales tax would help with conservation

Environment
Farm and Food

By Mike Moen, Public News Service- Iowa

DES MOINES, IOWA—Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds is trying to build support for a 1-cent sales-tax increase that would help fund conservation programs. It's a tough sell in the Legislature, but some groups are throwing their support behind the plan.

A portion of the tax hike would fulfill a 2010 constitutional amendment to the Iowa Water and Land Legacy trust fund. No money has been added to the fund since it was created, leaving rural areas to struggle with the effects of climate change.

Cody Smith, a Center for Rural Affairs policy associate, said it's become apparent how much the extra help is needed.

"We know that we have seen increased flooding in a lot of parts of the state," Smith said, "and we anticipate record-level flooding on the eastern side of the state this year."

When Iowa voters approved the fund a decade ago, they stipulated that revenue would have to come from a sales-tax increase, but that hasn't happened yet. In the Legislature, the governor's fellow Republicans have expressed some interest in the plan, which also would reduce taxes by shifting mental-health costs, but they add it's a complex proposal to deal with in the final two months of the session.

With the extra money, said Anna Gray, public-policy director for the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, rural communities could develop and implement water-management solutions that fit their needs.

"Wetlands, for example, do a great job of helping reduce nutrients and pollutants in our water system," she said, "but also help mitigate downstate flooding."

If approved, the tax hike would set aside $15 million each year for local conservation initiatives including long-term watershed planning and coordination.

The text of the bill is online at legis.iowa.gov.

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