Coalition: Continued need for environmental funding

BY KATIE HEINE | APRIL 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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No one likes an empty wallet. But for now, that’s what the Iowa Water and Land Legacy Amendment has, Mark Langgin said.

Though the amendment to create a trust fund to protect and preserve Iowa’s natural resources passed a statewide vote in November, no money will be available until the state approves a sales-tax increase. And that’s unlikely to happen anytime soon.

But Langgin, the director of Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy Coalition, continues to spread the word, regardless of the slim chance of an upcoming increase.

“We were hoping the 63 percent vote would communicate to our legislators that funding for these types of programs are important,” he said. “But that message hasn’t necessarily gotten through to elected officials.”

Prior to the amendment, Iowa didn’t have a sustainable funding mechanism for protecting its natural resources, Langgin said. Establishing the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund will ensure the protection of resources for future generations, he said.

Funds will be allocated the next time legislators choose to increase the sales tax. Three-eighths of every cent will be put into the trust fund to be used for conservation and preservation projects across the state. Approximately $150 million could be appropriated annually, Langgin said.

“It would really lay the groundwork for future generations,” he said.

He recently traveled across the state to host forums for community members to share their concerns about the quality of Iowa’s land and water. He said he found people want to improve the state of Iowa’s resources so they can be utilized.

Iowans rely on natural resources to hunt, fish, bike, hike, and swim, he said.

“Those things are slipping away — if we don’t invest in them now, I’m not sure if we will,” he said.

While Sen. Dick Dearden, D-Des Moines, said he doesn’t expect the sales tax to be increased in the near future, he remains optimistic. He even filed a bill to increase the tax but said he didn’t expect it to pass.

“It takes some time,” he said. “But once it happens, it will be great.”

Dearden served on the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Committee when it was established four years ago. He said the natural-resources amendment was of particular interest to him because he “believes in” the outdoors and calls it “a real passion in life.”

He was also confident supporters of the amendment and the outdoors will be persistent in their efforts.

“They won’t stop until they get there,” he said.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources was excited about the “overwhelming” support for the amendment, said Bill Ehm, the agency’s water-policy coordinator.

Iowa is in need of the funds, he said. After the 2008 floods, many landowners experienced severe agricultural damage, he said. But Natural Resources only had money to aid one in four applicants, he said.

“[The environment is] like your own home — it requires improvements, and that costs money,” he said.

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