IEC: Let's improve the Invest in Iowa Act to benefit Iowa's natural resources and outdoor recreation

posted by Ingrid Gronstal Anderson on Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Credit Island Bridge, Davenport, credit to PixabayWere you one of the thousands of Iowans who voted for the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund (Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy, or IWILL) in 2010? If so, you were probably excited about permanent, protected funding for outdoor recreation and cleaner water in Iowa.

The constitutional amendment funded corresponding allocations in the Iowa Code, otherwise known as the "original formula". Iowans voted to support a sales tax increase for a permanent, protected funding source to improve water quality, enhance outdoor recreation opportunities, preserve our natural areas, and support Iowa communities.

Since that vote, leaders have not passed the sales tax increase necessary to fund the Trust.

IWILL Original FormulaA decade later, Governor Reynolds included IWILL in her proposed Invest in Iowa Act (SSB 3116/HSB 657). The Act raises the sales tax one cent and dedicates 3/8 of a cent to IWILL, among other tax priorities. IEC appreciates the Governor’s dedication to make funding the Trust one of her top priorities for the legislative session -- the most significant legislative action to fund the Trust since Iowans voted to create it.

IEC has advocated for funding the Trust since its inception. In fact, we were the key leaders in the creation of the Trust fund plan. We have sent action alerts, held round table meetings, and spent hours with legislators and policy makers to encourage passage. Our members are invested in IWILL.

We are also defenders of public access to data and science-based solutions. While IEC is eager to see the Trust funded, the integrity of the original formula must be maintained.

IEC has conducted a careful analysis of the revenue and policy implications of the IWILL portions of this complex and multi-faceted bill. We have also spoken to legislators, agency staff, members, partners, and supporters to understand the interests, positions, and concerns of these various stakeholders.

There are some positives in the proposed legislation beyond simply turning on the funding: 

  • Every part of the Trust would receive more funding than current general fund appropriations;
  • the bill addresses existing waterbody impairments;
  • and the language is supportive of increasing resources for watershed coordinators and the watershed approach. 

However, before we register in support of the bill, we have identified key areas that need  improvement.

New vs. Existing Funding

The new bill shifts existing program appropriations from the general fund to the trust fund. The language in Chapter 461 of the Iowa Code – the IWILL formula – specifically states that trust fund money must supplement, not supplant, existing appropriations. Of the roughly $171 million that the 3/8 cent sales tax increase is projected to generate annually, the current bill creates only approximately $80 million in new money. Iowans expected to see roughly $180 million in new money each year when they created the Trust.

[IEC's analysis of IWILL Trust Funding, Feb. 2020]

IEC's analysis of the IWILL Trust funding breakdown 

Water Quality Concerns

The bill does not address the totality of Iowa’s water quality issues. It is true that fertilizer (nutrients) running into our lakes and streams is a major cause of water pollution in Iowa—but it is not the only issue. Bacteria, pesticides, sediment, and other contaminants create water quality challenges, and funding should be distributed equitably to address various types of pollution.

The approach to addressing nutrient pollution itself is also flawed. The bill significantly shifts funding toward the Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy (NRS). As IEC noted in an alarming analysis last year, the NRS has not managed to effectively reduce nutrient pollution. Shifting water quality funding so far in the direction of the NRS excludes other successful or potentially successful programs.

Funding and Spending Transparency

Spending and outcomes of taxpayer-funded projects should be transparent. Iowans expect easily available public information about the process for choosing projects, a detailed evaluation of how taxpayer money is spent, and assessment and monitoring to determine the efficacy of such projects. This is imperative for Iowans to understand whether the goals of various Trust-funded initiatives are being achieved.

Outdoor Recreation has been Limited

Kayaking on the Wapsipinicon RiverFinally, outdoor recreation has been de-emphasized and limited in this bill. Recreation is a fundamental component of IWILL. In fact, “outdoor recreation” is right there in the title. Unfortunately, the bill makes recreation a low priority, shifts funding away from trails and recreation projects, and introduces layers of bureaucracy that are not required for other project categories.

This is again an inequitable distribution of resources, and the administrative requirements make funding the recreation enhancements that Iowans desire more difficult.

Solutions to Address Concerns

To fulfill the promise of IWILL, the bill must address the following:

  1. The trust fund must provide a significant increase in resources for constitutionally-stated priorities;
  2. a balanced approach to water quality improvement initiatives;
  3. information about distribution, spending, and outcomes of publicly-funded projects must be publicly available and transparent; and 
  4. outdoor recreation, particularly trails, should be high priority.

IEC represents the largest environmental coalition in the state, bridging the priorities of those interested in land and conservation, protecting wildlife, clean water and clean air, businesses who seek to serve and employ happy Iowans, and so many more.

We will continue to serve as a resource for accurate information.

We urge members and supporters to ask the Governor and the legislature to address the four areas identified to maintain the integrity of the formula and preserve the promise of IWILL. We will continue working with the governor, the legislature, agency representatives, and all of our stakeholders to improve the bill.

Sign up for our action alerts to receive notice of important committee meetings. You will also receive alerts when your voice will be most impactful on this legislation. Together, with your input, WE will improve Iowa’s natural resources for future generations.

How can you help?

Improve the Invest in Iowa Act

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  4. drinking water
  5. flooding
  6. microcystin
  7. nitrate pollution
  8. nutrient reduction strategy
  9. public beaches
  10. reap
  11. water

About The Author

Ingrid Gronstal Anderson is Water Program Director with the Iowa Environmental Council. She has many years of experience in water policy, most recently serving as the Compliance Specialist at the University of Iowa Utilities and Energy Management. She previously worked as a consultant with the th ... read more