Hopes Dim for Water Quality Bill

Apr 18, 2016

After high hopes for action at the statehouse this year on water quality, it appears that lawmakers will soon be adjourning without reaching consensus on how to pay for the cleanup of Iowa rivers and streams. 

So far the Republican House and Democratic Senate have not been able to agree on a funding plan for water quality improvements.

The governor, the House, and the Senate each had competing funding mechanisms for cleaning up the water.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal (D-Council Bluffs) says the three interested parties are like ships passing in the night.

“The problem I see is that nobody is talking to each other,” Gronstal said.   “House Republicans, Senate Democrats have two plans.   I don't know if there are 26 votes for either of those two plans.”

Governor Branstad’s plan would divert school infrastructure dollars to water quality initiatives.  The GOP-controlled House has approved a bill that would tap existing funds rather than raising taxes which Democrats say would take money away from other critical priorities including education.

One of the Senate plans would raise the state sales tax, which Gronstal says would be challenging in an election year. 

”My sense is that, regardless of party, and particularly in the Republican ranks, there is no interest in raising taxes to come up with a new revenue stream," said Senate Minority Leader Bill Dix (R-Shell Rock.)

Three Iowa counties have been sued over nitrates in the water, and the state also faces federal standards on water quality.   Officials say without action by the state, the federal government could assume control of clean water in Iowa.

Gronstal has not entirely ruled out a compromise between the Republican- controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“Hope springs eternal with me,” Gronstal said.   “We may find something.  But I think we should build a process that helps people move toward consensus instead of here’s my plan.”

Governor Branstad says he supports the House Republican’s bill.  He says he has not given up on  implementing his school infrastructure proposal in future years.

In addition to the sales tax increase, Senate Democrats propose committing ending balances to water  quality initiatives in years when state revenues are healthy.