DES MOINES – Outdoor enthusiasts lauded Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds’ State of the State speech Tuesday after she called on the Legislature to support her forthcoming Invest in Iowa Act.
The bill calls for cutting income taxes, creating a sustainable funding source for the mental health system, reducing the burden of property taxpayers, and funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust.
The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund is a permanent and constitutionally protected funding source overwhelmingly approved by voters in 2010 to conserve Iowa’s natural resources. A decade later, the trust fund sits empty. When funded, it will create a permanent, accountable source of revenue to improve fish and wildlife habitat, soil and water conservation, and quality of life throughout all 99 counties.
“Funding that trust is no small investment, but I believe it’s one we need to make,” said Reynolds. “We were given this beautiful land to work but also to keep. And preserving what we’ve been given must be a responsibility of all Iowans.
“In 2010, the legislature established a formula for distributing the trust fund. I voted for that formula, as did every one of my colleagues. But the challenges we face today and will face tomorrow are different than what we understood them to be 10 years ago, so it’s time to amend the formula.
“Specifically, we need to increase the amount of money that will be allocated for water quality and conservation. Under my bill, almost 58 percent of the trust fund, an estimated $100 million, will go toward water-quality efforts every year, representing an almost 31 percent increase in current funding.
“We will also commit $52 million for other conservation and outdoor recreation efforts, representing an increase of 14.6 percent of current funding.
“These investments will not only aid our conservation efforts, they will improve our quality of life and help us retain and recruit a new generation of Iowans,” she said.
“Gov. Reynolds showed strong leadership in her desire to give our children and grandchildren healthier soils, waters, and wildlife,” said Ducks Unlimited (DU) CEO Adam Putnam. “Funding the Trust would give farmers and conservation partners the resources to work cooperatively to make historic improvements on Iowa’s landscape.”
According to DU
- The trust would provide significant funding for investments in voluntary soil and water conservation practices and technology that could improve yields and profits on Iowa farms, while conserving essential soil and water resources consistent with Iowa’s Nutrient Management Strategy.
- Less than 10 percent of Iowa’s wetlands remain, which has a serious impact on hunters, outdoors enthusiasts, and the economy. More than $2 million is spent every day by Iowa sportsmen and women on hunting and fishing. Over the last two decades, Iowa has lost more than 1.6 million acres of habitat suitable for pheasants, waterfowl, and other small game. And more than half of Iowa’s waters ranked “poor” and 500 waterways are “impaired.”
- By funding the trust, state lawmakers will ensure Iowans will benefit from improved waterfowl habitat, more outdoor recreational opportunities, and cleaner water.
DU is just one partner of the Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy (IWILL) coalition. The coalition’s mission is to bring “Iowans together in support of immediate, permanent, reliable, substantial funding aimed at improving our water quality, protecting our soil, enhancing our wildlife habitat, and increasing outdoor recreation opportunities throughout Iowa.” So far, they have gathered more than 100 individuals and organizations representing hunting, fishing, boating, tourism, health (e.g. American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, etc.), and other outdoor recreation supporters.
In her speech, the governor called for reevaluating the “formula” of distribution. According to IWILL, the “formula was developed prior to the passing of the constitutional amendment. It was determined by a broad base of stakeholders, including legislators, Farm Bureau, Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship (IDALS), non-governmental organizations (NGO), and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and promised to the people of Iowa.”
The original 2007 formula laid out the following ratios:
- Natural Resources: 23 percent
- Soil Conservation and Water Protection: 20 percent
- Watershed Protection: 14 percent
- Iowa Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP): 13 percent
- Local Conservation Partnerships: 13 percent
- Trails: 10 percent
- Lake Restoration: 7 percent
IWILL also points out that:
- Trust funds will be administered through existing infrastructure to reduce bureaucracy, provide clarity, yet allow flexibility.
- The formula requires an annual report to the legislature. The DNR, IDALS, and Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT) already work within this structure to submit an annual report of recommendations.
- The trust must only be used for voluntary practices and cannot be used for regulatory efforts, enforcement actions, eminent domain, condemnation, or litigation.
In 2006, Dan Cohen, executive director of the Buchanan County Conservation Board, served on the governor-appointed committee of stakeholders that explored ways to provide sustainable funding for natural resources and outdoor recreation in Iowa.
“The committee began work in 2006, and we presented the recommendation for a constitutionally protected trust fund to the Legislature in 2008,” said Cohen. “The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund represents a game-changer for protecting and enhancing water quality and providing a legacy of outdoor recreation opportunities for Iowans today and in the future.
“When Iowan’s voted in 2010 to amend the Iowa Constitution to create the trust fund and dedicate the first 3/8-cent of the next sales tax increase,” said Cohen, “they expected this to happen quickly. Ten years later, we are closer than ever. Language in the Constitution states trust funds must be spent on wildlife habitat, water quality, parks, recreational trails, and soil protection. A funding formula was placed in Iowa law in 2010 to reflect these purposes (Chapter 461). It is likely that any bill brought forward this year will alter this code section to some degree to reflect certain priorities. So long as these changes still result in meaningful additional funds to meet all purposes listed in the Constitution, this will be a great accomplishment for Iowans – affecting their health and quality of life for generations.
“The larger issue of tax reform will need to be argued out among legislators and the governor,” said Cohen. “There are many ways legislators can raise the sales tax to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. They could simply enact a 3/8-cent increase. However, the governor and legislative leadership seem intent on combining funding the trust fund with their other funding/tax desires. We need to watch the tax and funding formula arguments unfold, while keeping our eyes on the prize – a meaningfully funded, constitutionally-protected Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund!”
To support the funding the trust, DU suggests citizens:
- Attend a local legislative forum or coffee and speak to your legislator. Learn how to talk to your legislator.
- Attend an IWILL Day at the Capitol.
- Send a personal, handwritten letter to your legislator asking him or her to fund the trust by increasing the sales tax 3/8 of a penny.
- Invite your legislators to your DU or other outdoor organization’s event.
- Call your legislators and ask them to fund the trust. You can find your legislator online at www.legis.iowa.gov/legislators/find.
- Write a letter to the editor and send it to your local newspaper.
- Use Facebook and Twitter to advance the effort. “Like” the DU Iowa and IWILL Coalition Facebook pages, and share on your personal Facebook page.
More details about the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust may be found on the Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy website atwww.iowaswaterandlandlegacy.org.
“It’s an investment in our future,” said Reynolds in her State of the State. “And it’s an investment in those who are our future.”