In summary, the trust fund’s legal language is thus: created for the purposes of protecting and enhancing water quality and natural areas in the State including parks, trails, and fish and wildlife habitat, and conserving agricultural soils in this State.
Once funded, the Trust Fund guarantees that money in the Trust be allocated to the following areas:
· 7% Lake Restoration
· 10% Trails
· 13% REAP (Resource Enhancement and Protection program)
· 13% Local Conservation Partnership program
· 14% Watershed Protection
· 20% Soil Conservation and Water Protection (IDALS)
· 23% Natural Resources (DNR)
Since it is a constitutionally protected fund, that money cannot be diverted for other uses. Thus it will provide reliable funding for clean water and watershed protection, conservation practices, and wildlife habitat, which will grow as the economy grows.
The bad news
Since its passage, no money has gone into the trust fund. That’s right, in over four years, nothing has happened.
The reason? Everything hinges on increasing the sales tax percentage in the state.
As the amendment states: No revenue shall be credited to the fund until the tax rate for the sales tax imposed upon the retail sales price of tangible personal property and the furnishing of enumerated services sold in this State in effect on the effective date of this section is increased. When the sales tax is increased, then the fund will be annually credited with an amount equal to the amount generated by a sales tax rate of three-eighths of one percent.
That means that 3/8th of one cent would be used to support the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. What a shot in the arm this would be for the natural resources and outdoor recreational programs in Iowa. Plus, this would create a permanent revenue source! Although each year is different, according to the Iowa Environmental Council, this 3/8th of one cent would garner in excess of $100 million per year-$120 million based on 2011 sales tax data.
So, here we are over four years later with wording in place and no funding. It’s amazing to me that nothing has happened. Each year proponents bring it up, and when the word sales tax is mentioned, it gets shot down. But why? There is the old adage out there, and wise business leaders often follow it: sometimes you have to spend a little to make a lot!
The Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation has done a lot of study into how the 3/8th of one cent cost would actually be a net savings for Iowans. Take a look:
· This funding would provide protection of water quality, conservation of agricultural soils and improvement of natural areas including fish and wildlife habitat. Who wouldn’t want this?
· Outdoor recreation brings economic benefits to all of Iowa’s communities. Research shows hunting, fishing and wildlife watching generate $1.54 billion each year in Iowa. This includes $974 million in local retail sales, creating and supporting more than 17,800 jobs.
· Visits to state and county parks, lakes and trails bring in an estimated 50 million visits and $2.63 billion in spending levels.
· River recreation provides $824 million in sales and $139 million in personal income.
These are real dollars and cents! This is real income and real jobs and real recreational opportunities for all Iowans and visitors from other states. Why would we not spend 3/8th of one cent to protect, enhance and expand what we have to offer?
Just this past weekend, I saw a glimmer of hope in the form of “The Johnson Report” in the Spencer Daily Reporter. In it, Senator Johnson said he would be introducing legislation to raise the state’s sales tax by 3/8 of a cent to support the Trust Fund.
I emailed Representative Jones and she emailed me back with this update: “I have agreed to co-sponsor similar legislation that will be introduced by Representative Kaufmann in the House that couples the sales tax increase with income tax reform/an income tax cut, to make it revenue neutral.” Hopefully, the idea of making it be revenue neutral will appeal to more people.
It’s not too late!
Right now I would call this a real opportunity, if we all get behind this and build momentum to make this happen. Kind of like momentum in an athletic contest: put the pedal to the metal and keep it there till we’ve crossed the finish line!
As a person that cherishes our natural resources and as a member of the Okoboji Protective Association, which is dedicated to preserving the lakes for future generations, I call upon all of us to get behind this effort. Let our legislators know the importance of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund and that we want it funded. After all, it’s for Iowans today and a legacy for Iowans tomorrow!