Conversation around trust fund formula continues11/07/2019 | Soil Health, Water Quality, Ag Awareness, Economics
By Bethany Baratta, ISA senior writer
Nearly 10 years ago, 63% of Iowans voted for a Constitutional amendment to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, considered a permanent and protected funding source dedicated to clean water, productive agricultural soils and thriving wildlife habitats. But that trust fund is empty because it requires a sales tax increase of 3/8 of a cent for its funding.
A November 2017 poll showed 83% of Iowans support the trust fund; 69% of Iowans support increasing the sales tax by 3/8 of a cent to fund the trust fund.
The Iowa Soybean Association, as part of the Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) coalition, supports funding the trust.
The trust fund includes a formula that would help propel water quality, soil health and wildlife habitat protection efforts forward. The formula suggests a split of the funding between various sources:
23% natural resources
20% soil conservation and water protection
14% watershed protection
13% Iowa Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP)
13% local conservation partnerships
7% lake restoration
Panelists discussed the formula earlier this week as part of the Drake University Agricultural Law Center’s Soil 2019 program in Des Moines.
Iowa Soybean Association past president Ray Gaesser of Corning suggested taking a closer look at the formula and stacking benefits for the greater good.
“Let’s talk about how we can combine conservation and water quality practices along with some of the recreational opportunities,” Gaesser said. “I think it can be done.”
He noted that 60% of Iowa’s land is owned by an absentee landowner. So the formula ought to include technical assistance and guidance for those who may not be familiar with practices that could achieve that vision.
“I don’t want to tie up all the money for farmers and agriculture, but we should think innovatively and make sure we use those funds, so we have staff and technical assistance needed to maintain recreational opportunities at the same time,” Gaesser said.
Iowa Representative John Wills (R-Spirit Lake) pointed out the trust fund was created before the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy was put in place. The essence of the strategy is to focus on water quality. That should be reflected in the formula, he said.
“The priorities of the day should allow us to change the formula,” Wills said. “I’m a Republican and a realist. I don’t think the current formula has enough emphasis on water quality that would pass the Iowa Legislature.”
With outdoor recreation a part of its name, the trust fund ought to include more of an emphasis on this piece, said Iowa Representative Chris Hall (D-Sioux City).
This would also coincide with Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ emphasis on attracting people to the state, especially young families.
“One of the main metrics is the fact that we need to emphasize the quality of life, parks, trails and outdoor recreation,” Hall said. “If the Governor’s office is marketing the state as having that, I hope the legislature understands the importance of also maintaining the funding for those programs in a way that is also consistent.”
Hall said preserving some of the funding for outdoor recreation would help counties feeling anxious about retaining its residents.
“Since the last census, 71 of the 99 countries in the state have lost population. There are several factors, but removing things like outdoor recreation and trails from the funding formula would be shortsighted because it wouldn’t improve some of these anxieties that exist.”
Wills and Hall said there a variety of reasons why the funding hasn’t moved forward for the trust. By nature, an increase in taxes is seen as negative. There’s also the question about how the 5/8 of a cent remaining would be used.
Another reason? There’s only been one proposal in the last few years that addresses the fund. The passage of the gas tax in 2015 has shown that Democrats and Republicans can work together to accomplish something that benefits the state.
Gaesser said Iowans are ready.
“Seventy percent of Iowans say they are willing to pay taxes and support IWILL,” Gaesser said. “Iowans are IWILL people; not I can’t people. We need to remember that and move forward.”
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