Time to fill the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund
During its annual meeting in Des Moines last November, the County Conservation Directors Association reaffirmed its support and endorsement for funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.
The organization, which consists of conservation board directors from counties throughout Iowa, recognized the constitutionally protected trust fund as the best means for the state to make progress on problems related to water quality and other natural resources, as well as meeting outdoor recreation needs of citizens.
The CCDA also endorsed the funding strategy currently written into state law (Iowa Code Chapter 461), which was the product of years of research, public opinion polling, and bipartisan legislative agreement. The formula was the basis for the public’s vote on the constitutional amendment that created the trust fund, and calls for funds to be distributed largely through existing channels to both state and local partners in a manner that requires little need for new bureaucracy.
Thanks to Iowa voters who overwhelming voted to amend the Iowa Constitution in 2010, the first 3/8-cent of the next sales tax increase will be placed in the trust fund and spent on Iowa’s natural resources and outdoor recreation needs. The Iowa Constitution prohibits the use of these funds for any other purposes — the funds cannot be raided or reassigned. The Iowa Constitution also requires spending from the trust fund be accountable through public reports and audits.
Unfortunately, the trust fund has yet to receive any money. The Iowa Constitution does not allow a tax increase by referendum. Only the Legislature and governor can enact the tax increase to fund the trust — and these players have yet to demonstrate the political will to address the public’s will. The increase can occur as a simple, stand-alone measure, or as part of a broader tax reform.
The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund represents the only plan that will be brought forth this year to address water quality, outdoor recreation, and other natural resources needs that is comprehensive, strategic, well-vetted by stakeholders, approved by Iowa citizens, and protected in the Iowa Constitution. A poll conducted in 2014 indicated more than two-thirds of Iowa citizens would like to see the fractional tax increase to fund the trust.
Trust fund dollars will go a long way toward addressing serious water quality concerns and more. Parks and other outdoor recreation areas also will benefit. “Iowa’s park system and trails are important to state and local economies, helping attract and retain businesses and skilled workers who expect appealing recreational opportunities,” said Tom Hazelton, CEO of Iowa’s County Conservation System. “There are numerous multiple benefits. For example, while protecting and enhancing water quality, hunting and fishing areas often also are protected and enhanced.”
“Iowans do not want to wait for meaningful work to address the state’s water quality crisis, and are eager for improved places to interact in the outdoors,” said CCDA President Adam Shirley, director of the Mitchell County Conservation Board. “Hundreds of rivers, lakes, and streams are listed as impaired for recreation use. Some older local and state park facilities require major maintenance and upgrades, or need to be updated to meet modern needs. Many recreational trails are disconnected or need repair. With all of this, we live in a state that ranks 47th in the country in spending on natural resources and outdoor recreation. The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund represents a turning point toward a better Iowa for today’s citizens and a legacy for future generations.”
The Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards is among scores of diverse Iowa groups supporting funding for the constitutionally protected Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, and distribution of trust fund dollars as per the formula currently in Iowa law. These groups are part of Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy.
For more information about the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, visit: www.iowaswaterandlandlegacy.org/about.
• Dan Cohen of Independence is executive director of the Buchanan County Conservation Board. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org