Letter: Will Iowa ever pass legislation to protect the environment?

Published 8:30 pm Tuesday, December 5, 2023

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According to U.S. News and World Report, Iowa ranks lower than over half of the states in water quality. Biological sampling done by volunteers through the Izaak Walton League at 150 stream sites across the state in 2022 found that two-thirds of streams had poor or fair water quality. These high pollution levels have led to harmful algae blooms, fish-killing, human health issues and even caused a swimmer to die from brain-eating amoebas. Watersheds are causing many of these issues in Iowa. The most effective ways to fix water shedding include terraces and buffers to reduce pollutants reaching lakes and streams. Unfortunately, Iowa currently does not have the funding to start using buffers or terraces. So what can be done?

The Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would be beneficial here. According to the Iowa DNR, 17 years ago, an advisory committee appointed by the Iowa Legislature initiated a four-year internal and multi-state research project that found that supporting the benefits connected to natural resources would be a feasible investment for Iowa, supporting agriculture, the economy and outdoor recreation. In 2010, the people of Iowa voted to amend the state constitution to dedicate a funding source generated by a sales tax of three-eighths of 1 percent, named the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust fund (IWILL). This amendment stated that any time the Iowa state sales tax was increased, three-eighths of 1 percent would go to the trust fund, estimated to create $120 to $180 million per year for environmental concerns.

From 2015-2023, at least five bills were introduced in the Iowa Legislature regarding the trust fund. However, these bills proved unfruitful as they all were eventually pronounced dead.
IWILL has had a difficult time in the Iowa Legislature because Republican representatives see it as increasing the government’s reach and taxes, which is something they oppose. Republican legislators have previously raised concerns about raising the state sales tax, believing that Iowa can’t pass a straight sales tax increase without reform.

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A poll done in March of 2020 for the Des Moines Register found that increasing the state sales tax to fund the trust was supported by 76% of Democrats, 44% of Republicans, 59% of independents and 57% of all Iowans. This same poll found that Iowans highly valued the state’s water quality, with 62% of people surveyed saying they believe improving water quality deserves a larger share of tax dollars. The poll reassured that many Iowans would support funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund as approximately 41% of the money generated, or about $61.5 million per year would go towards water quality.

Despite being supported by Iowa voters and 85 environmental organizations, the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund has sat empty for the last 13 years. Unfortunately, until Iowa voters make themselves heard and Iowa legislators change their philosophy on taxes and government, the trust will continue to sit empty,w and environmental conditions in Iowa will continue to degenerate.

Samantha Szymanowski
Lake Mills