Diminishing wildlife habitat, topsoil erosion, flooding and water quality degradation were growing conservation problems facing Iowa over a decade ago. Recognizing the need for action and growing budget shortfalls to address these important issues, the Iowa Legislature formed the Advisory Committee on Sustainable Natural Resource Funding in 2006 to recommend the best long-term, sustainable and predictable model to fund Iowa’s natural resources.
Representatives from the Iowa Farm Bureau, Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards, The Nature Conservancy, numerous other conservation, sportsmen and environmental groups, including Ducks Unlimited came together and reviewed over 40 sustainable funding models. I was one of the original 18 members chosen to serve on this bipartisan Advisory Committee. After a tremendous amount of research into the best practices for long term natural resources and outdoor recreation funding, the Advisory Committee recommended establishing a constitutionally protected trust to be funded by a 3/8 cent increase in the Iowa sales tax.
In November 2010, a 63 percent supermajority of Iowans voted to create the trust fund, yet Iowa lawmakers from both political parties have repeatedly failed to pass the sales tax increase to provide the funding. Six years after voters spoke loudly, the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund sits empty without a dime of funding. Had our state elected officials followed the will of the people and raised the sales tax back in 2010, nearly $1.0 billion in funding for natural resources and outdoor recreation would have been invested in shovel-ready projects across all 99 counties.
Conservation activities funded by the Trust will have a positive impact on local economies with increases in production, recreation, jobs, taxes and spending. These impacts have a multiplier effect and investment in our natural resources is important for the state’s economy. Tourism generates more than $7.6 billion in Iowa, employs 64,600 people, and generates $328 million in state taxes.
Today, roughly half of Iowa’s rivers, lakes, and streams fail to meet minimum water quality standards. The lost sales tax revenue could have been used to improve water quality standards and likely avoid the divisive Des Moines Waterworks lawsuit. Today, less than 10 percent of Iowa’s wetland areas remain. Wetland restoration would improve water quality, help with soil erosion, and provide important wildlife habitat critical to the $1.0 billion hunting and fishing industry in Iowa. The lost sales tax revenue could have been used to protect those wetlands. Iowa loses an average of 5 tons per acre of topsoil annually to erosion. The lost funds could have been used to protect the precious soil which current and future generations of Iowa farmers will use to provide the food, fiber and fuel to meet global demand.
Iowans have consistently spoken loud and clear that they want action on funding the Iowa Outdoor Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund through a 3/8 increase in the statewide sales tax. Minnesota, Missouri and Arkansas have passed similar sales tax increases and the time has come to Fund the Trust in Iowa. As a conservative Republican voter, I strongly encourage Governor Branstad and the Iowa Legislature to secure our land and water legacy for future generations, leaving a truly lasting legacy.
l Tammi Kircher is chairwoman for Iowa Ducks Unlimited.