IOWA LEGISLATURE

Kim Reynolds finds support, some pushback for her Invest in Iowa plan in Cedar Rapids visit

Gov. Kim Reynolds (center) hugs supporters during a town hall at the Early Bird Cafe, 333 First St. SE, Cedar Rapids, on
Gov. Kim Reynolds (center) hugs supporters during a town hall at the Early Bird Cafe, 333 First St. SE, Cedar Rapids, on Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — Gov. Kim Reynolds knows the success of her plan to pay for mental health services, natural resources initiatives and outdoor recreation will depend on Iowans persuading reluctant legislators to vote for a sales tax hike.

Her Invest in Iowa Act will be an overall tax reduction, Reynolds said, because it will result in lower property and income taxes, which, along with the improvements in the environment and quality of life amenities, will make Iowa more attractive to business development and job creation.

Reynolds’ Invest in Iowa Act calls for 1-cent increase in the sales tax — about $540 million a year — to provide $172 million a year for natural resources, more than $80 million a year for mental health and make Iowa’s taxes more competitive.

Jackie Wedeking of Marion took a small step toward funding those priorities Friday morning when she walked up to the governor and handed her a penny.

“A fraction of a penny for natural resources is worth it,” said Wedeking, who works for Trees Forever. She and her two children frequently use trails when they take Iowa “staycations.”

“This funding is so, so important for trees and natural resources, but it’s also important for Iowa families. It’s time that we fund the trust,” Wedeking said, referring to the trust fund approved by Iowa voters in 2010.

Reynolds called Wedeking’s penny “the best thing I’ve had happen so far” in her series of town hall meetings to promote the Invest in Iowa Act.

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“I’m so energized by what I heard this morning,” she said before heading to more meetings in Monticello and Dubuque. “At every one of these town halls that I’ve had, we’ve had unbelievable turnout ... and the conversation has been great. So I’m motivated by what I’m hearing.”

The test, she acknowledged will be motivating legislators to vote for the plan, which will require them to approve a sales tax hike in an election year. Reynolds is counting on Iowans such as the 100-plus who filled the Early Bird Cafe to persuade lawmakers to get on board.

“If this is something you agree with and you think it will move Iowa forward, you have to let your legislators know,” Reynolds said. “Otherwise, they don’t think you care. You have a really important role in this Invest in Iowa. They’ve got to hear from you.”

For the most part, comments about the governor’s plan were positive. The Cedar Rapids Metro Alliance and Iowa Chamber Alliance voiced support for the economic development benefits of spending on natural resources and quality of life amenities as well as lower taxes.

Dennis Goemaat of the Linn County Conservation Board said her plan was discussed, and despite reservations, board members reached a consensus that “something is better than nothing ... and waiting another 10 years would be a lost opportunity.”

Maureen Bickford thanked the governor for including mental health funding in the plans. Reynolds said it would provide $120 million the first year and more in following years.

“People can’t work and have the quality of life they deserve if they aren’t healthy,” Reynolds said. “Children certainly can’t learn if they’re dealing with trauma or mental illness.”

There was pushback from some who supported the referendum 10 years ago to create the Iowa Water and Land Legacy. Her formula for spending the money is “violating the promise of what we voted for,” said Peter Fisher of the Iowa Policy Project. In 2010, the plan called for three-eighths of a cent of the next sales tax increase to fund the outdoor trust.

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“The promise was that all of the three-eighths cents would be new money” for natural resources initiatives, Fisher said. “But about half of it is just moving programs out of other funds into this.”

It may not be everything he voted on 10 years ago, Reynolds said, “but it is a lot of new money.”

“It wasn’t going to be brought forward unless we figured out a way to find some compromise,” Reynolds said. The state is putting more money into water quality efforts than it was 10 years ago, so it’s appropriate to include that in Invest in Iowa.

Funding for the outdoor trust “was going nowhere,” she said. “I know the makeup of the Legislature. I had a lot of conversations. This is what we had to do. I felt like it was moving the ball forward.”

There also were concerns about a change in the IWILL formula that reduces the percentage of money earmarked for trails. She hears that argument at every town hall, Reynolds said.

“I appreciate your passion, but if I can’t get there and I know it’s a non-starter, I need to figure out how do I start to meet you halfway,” she said. “Are you willing not to take halfway and go home with nothing, or are you willing meet me halfway?”

If legislators approve Invest in Iowa, “We can live another day and build on what we’re putting in there right now,” Reynolds said. “I don’t want to shut down. I don’t think that’s helpful.”

Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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