Gov. Terry Branstad’s plan to spend nearly $850 million over the course of 12 years to clean Iowa’s waterways narrowly advanced in the Iowa Senate today, in spite of opposition from lawmakers of both parties.
Iowa is under pressure from the federal government to remove nutrients from the water which are contributing to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. But at a subcommittee hearing for the Iowa Senate’s Committee for Natural Resources and Environment, the chair downplayed the seriousness of the problem.
“I don’t subscribe to the theory that the sky is falling when it comes to water quality,” said Sen. Ken Rozenboom (R-Oskaloosa.) “We’ve got tremendous improvements in water quality that we can demonstrate any number of different ways.”
Rozenboom does agree the state still has work to do on nitrates.
Sen. Joe Bolkcom (D-Iowa City) supported the bill’s advancement past a three-member panel to the consideration by the full committee. Though he says he's concerned the plan will take money away from schools, the courts and higher education.
“We're going to take that money away from a rather stressed budget and put it over here to solve this problem over here,” Bolkcom said.
The governor's plan also diverts millions of dollars from the state’s Rebuild Iowa Infrastructure Fund, which is made up of gambling receipts.
The bill's manager, Sen. Tom Shipley, agrees the legislation does not fix everything.
"I'm not sure it was ever intended to," said the Nodaway Republican. “This is going to be a long project."
Interest groups are divided on the legislation. The Iowa Farm Bureau supports the bill, and the Master Builders of Iowa opposes it because it taps infrastructure dollars that would otherwise fund major construction projects.
Environmental groups and others favor raising the state sales tax to pay for cleaner water.
A bill similar to the governor’s plan is under consideration in the Iowa House.