Staff Columnist

Board of Health cares about health, endorses filling the natural resources and recreation trust fund

A portion of the Clear Creek Trail, which county conservationists hope to further extend to Oxford.
A portion of the Clear Creek Trail, which county conservationists hope to further extend to Oxford.

Many groups have called for raising the state sales tax to fill Iowa’s Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Too many to list.

But this time, the call is coming from inside the executive branch!

What? It’s Halloween week.

And I’m afraid I’ve done a lousy job following the Iowa Board of Health. Turns out, last month, the board unanimously approved a resolution calling on the Legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds to raise the state sales tax to fill the trust fund, created by voters through a constitutional amendment in 2010. Dithering Statehouse leaders frightened by the specter of a tax increase, even a popular one, have left the fund empty for nearly a decade.

A three-eighths-cent sales tax increase would generate $180 million or more annually for water quality improvement efforts, conservation and outdoor recreation.

This is notable because the Board of Health also calls for keeping the existing spending plan for trust fund dollars as-is, with a chunk of money going to parks, trails, lakes and other recreation uses. That runs counter to rumblings about a possible Statehouse trust fund deal that would dramatically change the formula to send more bucks to the agriculture department for farm-based water quality projects.

That’s what the Iowa Farm Bureau would like to see. The group has lobbied against any state park expansions and sought to thwart private land donations for conservation uses.

The health board’s call is also notable given that the governor-appointed panel’s 11 members include six Republicans, two no-party voters and three Democrats. Hardly a bunch of leftist environmentalists.

The Iowa Environmental Health Association advocated for the resolution. In addition to the state board, 24 county health boards have passed resolutions supporting a tax boost to fill the fund.

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Basically the state Board of Health’s version argues the health of Iowans can be improved through getting outside and recreating. The board’s resolution notes that getting outdoors yields numerous health benefits, especially for children. It points out that Iowa has the nation’s fourth-highest adult obesity rate and 10th highest rate for kids 10 to 17. Obesity spawns numerous health risks.

So turning the whole trust fund into an ATM for landowners may be what the Farm Bureau wants, but it’s not what we voted for in 2010, or what this overstuffed state needs. Already, under the existing formula, upward of 60 percent of trust fund dollars will go toward improving water quality, including farm-based projects.

The Board of Health resolution notes that a full one-cent sales tax increase could fill the fund and provide five-eighths of a cent for other health-related uses, such as the state’s underfunded mental health care system. It also calls on lawmakers to consider measures that would mitigate the effect of a sales tax boost on low-income Iowans.

So what’s been the response to the board’s vote? Thus far, crickets. I asked Reynolds’ spokesman, Pat Garrett, if the governor had any reaction or perhaps shared the views of the health board she appointed. As of this writing, his response has been no response.

Still, it’s a treat knowing the Board of Health cares about our health. After all, the state’s Environmental Protection Commission has approved no such resolution backing a trust fund fill up. If you thought the EPC would actually care about environmental protection, you’ve been tricked.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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