Decade-old conservation amendment may finally receive funding


Photo from Max Pixel

Tyler Chalfant | November 26th, 2019

In a 2010 referendum, Iowans approved a constitutional amendment to create the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, a permanent and protected source of funding dedicated towards conserving and improving the state’s water quality, farmland, and natural wildlife habitats, and providing opportunities for recreation. Nearly a decade later, that fund still remains empty

The fund requires a state sales tax increase of 3/8th of a cent, something the legislature never approved. Recent polling has found that 69% of Iowans support this increase, up from 63% who voted for the amendment in the first place. Senate Majority Leader Jack Whitver says that the funding would have to be a part of a net decrease in Iowans’ tax burden, while some Democrats are concerned that the tax is regressive, as it disproportionately places the burden of fixing environmental problems on those with low to moderate incomes who did not cause them.

Still, Governor Kim Reynolds has said she’s working on a plan to fill the fund which could be voted on during the legislative session starting in January. A one-cent increase in Iowa’s sales tax would generate an additional $547 million, $170 million of which would be directed to the Trust Fund. The constitutionally protected funding would primarily be committed to natural resources, soil, water, and watershed conservation, as well as the resource enhancement and protection program known as REAP and local conservation partnerships.

Proposed bill would fund natural resources through sales tax increase


A shot of the autumn trees at Lake Ahqabi State Park in central Iowa. (TumblingRun/Flickr)
Lake Ahqabi State Park in central Iowa during the fall. (TumblingRun/Flickr)

Nick Fetty | March 19, 2015

Earlier this week state lawmakers proposed a bill that would raise sales tax by three-eighths of a percent to help fund natural resources preservation and outdoor recreation efforts.

Money raised would go to Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund which was approved by 63 percent of Iowa voters in 2010. State Senator David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) estimates that the bill will generate approximately $150 million each year.

The Senate Natural Resources and Environment subcommittee voted 3-0 to approve Senate File 357 which would go into effect July 1, 2016. The bill has received bipartisan support in Iowa’s democrat-controlled Senate and has also been backed by more than 85 environmental and wildlife groups. The bill will now be advanced to the Senate Ways and Means Committee.

However, the proposal in its current form may meet some resistance in the republican-controlled House, according to Rep. Tom Sands (R-Wappello) who also chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.

“It would be extremely difficult for House Republicans to vote to raise fuel taxes and sales taxes in the same year. Our focus in our campaigns has always been to try to lower taxes for all Iowans,” Sands said in an interview with the Des Moines Register

The Iowa Association of County Conservation Boards outlined several potential projects the bill could fund to improve outdoor recreational activities in Iowa’s 99 counties. Additionally, the group said these projects would create “tens of thousands” of jobs to accommodate the increase in visitors at Iowa parks.

If approved, this bill would be the states first sales tax increase since 1992.