Iowa governor's water quality proposal gets lukewarm response from lawmakers

Proposal would use school infrastructure tax funds to help impaired waters

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DES MOINES — Republican leaders said they will keep an open mind when considering Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal to share future school infrastructure sales tax revenue with water-quality projects, but Democrats expressed hesitation and concern over protective language in the original law.

Leaders of both political parties addressed the governor’s proposal Thursday in meetings with Statehouse reporters.

The governor plans to submit legislation that would use some revenue from the 1 percent sales tax for school infrastructure toward improving the quality of Iowa’s impaired waters.

Branstad has called it one of the boldest plans he has put forth during his historic six terms as governor, but it has received at best a lukewarm reception from state lawmakers.

“I think we’re kind of between a rock and a hard place, only because every one of us believes we need to work on water quality,” said Senate President Pam Jochum, D-Dubuque. “We’re going to find some way to deal with water quality. This may not be the best avenue.”

Jochum noted local voters had to approve the 1 percent sales tax in each county and they did so with the understanding it would be used only for school infrastructure projects.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, said there is a provision in the law that requires approval of two-thirds of state lawmakers in each chamber to alter how the sales tax revenue may be spent.

Branstad will work with lawmakers to design legislation that allows future school infrastructure sales tax revenue to also be used for water quality projects, his spokesman said Thursday.

House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said Republican legislators will examine the governor’s proposal and also generate their own ideas for how to fund water-quality projects.

“There are other ideas out there, too. The governor welcomed that. I think that’s a great opportunity to really think about a bold approach to how we’re going to continue to fund water quality,” Upmeyer said. “It’s been a priority for (Republicans). It continues to be. So we’re looking at those opportunities, and we’ll absolutely move forward with the governor’s bill as well as others.”

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