Stakeholders renew push for natural resources sales tax increase

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DES MOINES — More agricultural and business organizations are joining the call for a state sales tax increase to fund water-quality, conservation and outdoor recreation programs.

Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, a group that advocates for financing the state’s empty Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, held a news conference Monday near the Raccoon River in Des Moines to say support for the group’s cause is growing.

“We’re adding a lot more businesses to the coalition,” said Jan Glendening, a coalition co-chair and state director of The Nature Conservancy. “This has been broadening year after year after year, and we intend to keep broadening it.”

The coalition includes organizations representing conservation, hunting, agriculture and recreation, among others.

In 2010, Iowa voters approved the creation of the outdoor trust fund. But state lawmakers and the governor have not enacted a sales tax increase of three-eighths of 1 cent in order to deliver money to the trust fund, so it has remained empty since its creation.

The movement to increase the sales tax and finance the trust fund has grown in recent years as Iowa has encountered water-quality issues.

The federal government has ordered the state to remove from its waterways harmful pollutants that are flowing into the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, where marine life in large areas in the gulf is dying because of a lack of oxygen in the water. The state developed a strategy to clean its waters, but the report calls for $4 billion in funding.

Also, a Des Moines water utility has filed a lawsuit against several northwest Iowa counties over agricultural runoff that it says is contributing to pollution in the Raccoon River.

A three-eighths of 1 cent sales tax increase would produce $188 million in fiscal year 2018 and surpass $200 million in fiscal 2020, according to an analysis by the state’s nonpartisan fiscal estimating agency.

If financed, the trust fund would devote roughly 60 percent of its resources to water-quality programs, coalition members said.

Coalition member said Monday they are more optimistic than ever that they can convince the governor and state lawmakers to finance the trust fund, despite previous opposition to a sales tax increase.

Kirk Leeds, CEO of the Iowa Soybean Association, pointed to the 2015 state gas tax increase that was enacted in order to fill a gap in road and bridge construction funding.

“I think it’s also clear that within the current resources of the Iowa Legislature, we do not have a way to dedicate long-term funding to water-quality efforts,” Leeds said. “We need to make those investments, so we will engage in that political conversation with the governor and with legislative leaders.”

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