Conservation groups celebrate long-awaited outdoor funding proposal

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Conservation groups have welcomed a Senate Republican tax proposal that would fund the Iowa Water and Land Legacy Project, an initiative to protect Iowa’s natural resources.

Legislators approved the creation of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund in 2008 and 2009. The following year, Iowa voters amended the state constitution to include a framework for the fund: the next time the state passed a sales tax increase, three-eight one cent of the tax would go to water quality, outdoor recreation, and wildlife conservation.

The problem: Iowa hasn’t passed a statewide sales tax increase since then, leaving the fund empty for more than 12 years.

Senate Republicans this year proposed a tax plan that would convert a 1-cent local option sales tax — which is already in place in most Iowa communities — to an on-site sales tax. statewide. This would finally start funneling money into the fund, commonly referred to as IWILL.

Representatives from conservation, hunting and business groups spoke in favor of Senate study bill 3074 at a subcommittee meeting on Tuesday.

“After 12 years, our 15,000 members in the state are very pleased to see IWILL included in this bill,” said Josh Divan, state coordinator for Pheasants Forever, a group of hunters and conservationists. ‘environment.

Several lobbyists linked the proposal to labor shortages, arguing that investments in the state’s natural resources would attract new workers to the state.

“We believe the trust is a huge opportunity to invest immediately in the water quality, agricultural conservation, outdoor recreation, trails and quality of life assets that make Iowa an attractive place. to live and work,” said Anna Gray, lobbyist for Iowa. Natural Heritage Foundation.

The Iowa Chamber Alliance, a group that represents Iowa chambers of commerce, agreed.

“What we hear repeatedly is that quality of life projects are what people are looking for where they want to live, work and play,” said Dustin Miller, executive director of the alliance.

However, not all parties were ready to endorse the plan.

Pam Mackey-Taylor, branch manager of the Sierra Club of Iowa, said the proposal would prioritize the Nutrient Reduction Strategy, a water quality initiative, “at the expense of all other elements that we are supposed to finance with IWILL”.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, a Democrat on the bill’s subcommittee, also raised concerns about the current proposal. He argued that urban residents would bear a greater burden of sales tax, but may not see an equal payout from the program.

“I fear the recreational opportunities that will be provided by this new revenue to cities and local communities are paltry,” said Bolkcom, D-Iowa City.

Governor Kim Reynolds has proposed a 1-cent statewide sales tax increase in 2020. Her “Invest in Iowa” plan was unpopular with Senate Republicans. She dropped it when the COVID-19 pandemic hit later that year, and she declined to resume the plan in 2021 or 2022.

Lobbyists call on House lawmakers to add IWILL to their plan

The house tax plan, House Study Bill 626, does not include IWILL funding. Several lobbyists on Tuesday called on House lawmakers to add a similar provision to their bill.

Dan Cohen, executive director of the Buchanan County Conservation Board, said he thinks the funding “would go with some of the stated goals of tax reform.”

“This long-awaited funding from the Constitutional Trust Fund provisions would revitalize rural Iowa by bringing more investment into parks, waters, natural areas, all of the things that draw people to our communities,” Cohen said.

The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation also called for IWILL to be added to the final package, calling it a “game changer.”

Both House and Senate bills are presented to the Ways and Means Committee of each House. The IWILL issue and other differences between the bills and the governor’s plan will need to be resolved before a bill is signed into law.

Learn more: How do Iowa Republican tax plans compare?

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