Conservation issues were on the mind of both the public and local legislators during a forum hosted by Jones County Economic Development March 8.
Rod Smith, Anamosa, questioned the legislators on why the three-eighth cent tax hike to fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund still hadn’t passed. The legislature is in year nine since two-thirds of Iowans voted in favor of the funding.
Rep. Andy McKean said it was an issue that he felt the people were ahead of the politicians on, and he would love to see something passed this session. Rep. Lee Hein, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, was not so optimistic.
“We are looking at it, but I don’t think it will happen this year,” Hein said.
The reason for the delay, Hein said, was that the legislature was looking at raising the sales tax a whole $.01. Therefore, not only does the legislature have to come to an agreement on how the three-eighths will be allocated according to Iowa Code, but what to do with the other five-eighths. One possibility that’s gotten its fair share of discussion is using the five-eighths to fund mental health.
The goal, Hein said, is to build support and tighten things up over the coming months so something could be presented at the start of next year’s session.
“There’s a lot more to it than meets the eye…This has never been a Democrat or Republican issue,” Sen. Dan Zumbach said but that the main concern is how the funds can be used in the best interest of public policy.
The first question of the forum asked about a couple of conservation bills that came up for debate.
Zumbach ran the senate bill in its subcommittee and said the bill that made it through their subcommittee was very narrow in scope. The only change to land purchasing that changed was allowing access to the Revolving Loan Fund for land purchases.
Zumbach said the fund was originally set up for infrastructure projects and would not allow the project to be used for the purchase of land any more, which had allowed land to be purchased at lower interest than those looking to purchase land privately.
Koelker said the subcommittee hearing in the Senate was a “packed house,” and she was happy that the removal of the tax credit for land donations was taken out of the Senate bill. Koelker stressed the importance of balancing the economic development angle for land purchases for tourism uses with agricultural.
“The people arrived with passion,” she said.
A more restrictive bill failed to pass the House.
“The thing that I think we got out of (House File 542) was that it spurred a lot of conversation,” Hein said.
One point of discussion had been other ways for the DNR to make money, pointing to how Jackson County does selective sales of timber on land they owned.