Reynolds makes push for Branstad water quality plan

She insists governor won't step down early on her behalf

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Despite an unenthusiastic reception from lawmakers to their plan to link funding for school infrastructure and clean water, Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds are making a statewide push to sell the plan to Iowans.

“It’s a framework. If someone has a better plan, put it on the table,” Reynolds said in Cedar Rapids on Thursday.

Reynolds said there is a “sense of urgency” to secure funding for a long-term water quality initiative before the court system “defines how we do agriculture here in Iowa.”

The Des Moines Water Works has filed a federal lawsuit claiming farm field drainage tiles are to blame for high nitrate levels in the Raccoon River, a source of water for 500,000 consumers.

Reynolds is visiting Cedar Rapids, Waterloo, Dubuque and the Quad Cities to build support for the plan to tap an existing sales tax revenue stream to fund a water quality initiative the governor announced Tuesday in his Condition of the State speech.

The plan calls for a 20-year extension of a 1-cent sales tax for school infrastructure, which is slated to expire in 2029. If approved by a two-thirds of the Legislature, schools would get $20.7 billion for infrastructure otherwise funded by property taxes, and $4.7 billion would be channeled into the water quality initiative.

“It’s another bold and innovative idea,” Reynolds told the Cedar Rapids Rotary Club, adding the plan is a “win-win” for schools and the environment.

Reynolds, 56, had 19 years of experience in county government and was serving in the Iowa Senate when Branstad tabbed her as his running mate. He’s made no secret that he’s grooming her to succeed him, though Reynolds, in a Thursday meeting with The Gazette Editorial Board, said that’s not something she’s thinking about.

“We’re just starting the second year of our second term,” Reynolds said. “We’ve got a lot yet to do.”

Reynolds also rejected frequent speculation that Branstad, now that he has become the nation’s longest-serving governor, will resign to give Reynolds a chance to be governor before the 2018 election, possibly giving her a leg up on fellow Republicans — Cedar Rapids Mayor Rob Corbett and Iowa Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey, for example — and Democrats who might want the job.

The chances of that are “zero to none,” Reynolds insisted. “You know the governor. He loves this state. He works tirelessly on behalf of Iowans. He’s got a lot he wants to accomplish. He’s going to serve out his term.”

Under any scenario, Branstad remains Reynolds’ biggest promoter.

“She is very capable, very talented,” the governor said on Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press.” “She is in on all the decision-making, she is next in line to be governor. I want to make sure that she is well-prepared. And I’d say she is probably already as well-prepared as anybody ever has been to be governor.”

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