By The Gazette Editorial Board
A little more than two years ago, Iowans voted overwhelmingly to cement the Iowa Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund into the state constitution. The measure, which was supported by nearly 63 percent of voters, would pump three-eighths of a cent from any future state sales tax increase into outdoor recreation and conservation efforts.
A Senate subcommittee recently signed off on a bill that would power that pump by raising the state sales tax by three-eighths of a cent, a move that would collect more than $120 million annually. The measure is eligible for debate by the Senate Natural Resources Committee. Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, is among its leading backers.
We understand that Senate Study Bill 1117 probably isn’t going to become law. Gov. Terry Branstad has said that he doesn’t support the tax increase. Politically, it’s all but doomed, at least this year.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea. And we’d like to see lawmakers prove our prediction wrong.
Maybe you read the words “outdoor recreation” and think of campsites and canoes. The fund certainly can provide a boost to the quality of Iowa’s recreational offerings and their mutli billion-dollar economic impact.
But, even more important, Iowa is in need of additional dollars to protect its land and water resources. The state is embarking on ambitious efforts to reduce agricultural runoff and better manage its watersheds, both with an eye on downstream pollution and flooding. Conservation of Iowa’s rich, valuable soil is also at stake.
Iowa’s policy preference is to encourage better land use and runoff practices through incentives that encourage voluntary changes. But those incentives must be funded adequately to succeed. The state’s runoff reduction strategy will require incentives that far exceed the state’s current conservation budget. And if they don’t succeed, Iowa farmers and agribusinesses could face mandated measures prescribed by the Environmental Protection Agency. The cost of federal requirements could far exceed the cost of a modest sales tax increase.
In 2010, voters showed how strongly they feel about recreation and conservation. Lawmakers should follow their lead.
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