A bill to appropriate historic levels of funding for water quality passed the Iowa House last night by a vote of 65 to 33.
Democrats argued it may not be enough to keep the federal government from taking over enforcement of clean water in the state.
The bill was approved after six hours of private meetings and two hours of public debate.
Under the bill, half a billion dollars in tax revenues would be re-directed for water quality over the next 13 years. That would be in addition to a $20 million annual appropriation the state is already committing to water quality.
Critics say next year, the state appropriation for water quality will increase by only $9 million for what they call a $5 billion project.
Cedar Rapids Democrat Kirsten Running-Marquardt said the bill doesn’t require enough accountability for where all the new money is going.
“We at least at a minimum should have information back on what is working and what is not working,” Running-Marquardt said. “When we have this information we can move the state forward in a voluntary solution before time runs out and those things are out of our control.”
Democrats also argued that farmers should pay at least half of the cost for water quality improvements on their land.
‘I believe that in cost-share programs 50% is usually the model,” said Rep. Charles Isenhart (D-Dubuque). “Iowans needs to see in writing that there's going to be private skin in the game to match the public funds.”
But Republican backers say that the state needs flexibility in order to get landowners to make the improvements.
“Some are more expensive than others,” said Rep. Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford), “and will take more investment from the state to get landowners to sign off.”
The GOP bill commits existing tax receipts for cleaning up Iowa waterways rather than raising new revenues. Democrats say that will take dollars away from public schools and maintenance on state buildings.
Democrats favor a 3/8 of a cent sales tax increase for environmental initiatives which, if approved, would be constitutionally protected and could not be used for any other purpose.
The bill now goes to the Iowa Senate where Democrats are crafting their own water quality bill.
For House Republican Staff analysis of House File 2451, click here.