July 25, 2014

Groups push to hike sales tax by 3/8ths of a percent; governor opposed

A bill that would raise the state sales tax three-eighths of a percent — and dedicate the money to environmental programs — has cleared one hurdle at the statehouse, but there’s a key barrier ahead. Governor Terry Branstad does not support it.

“I don’t think we should be raising taxes,” Branstad told reporters this morning. “My goal is to reduce property taxes and make Iowa more competitive, to bring more jobs here.”

A senate subcommittee held a public hearing early this morning on the proposal. Mike Delaney, vice president of the Raccoon River Watershed Association, said it’s time for the state to “get serious” and dedicate more money to resolving water quality issues.

“We support this effort to get adequate funding for our natural capital which is being wasted,” Delaney said. “Our land is being wasted. Our water quality is in decline. Our outdoor recreation is threatened.”

Jerry Peckumn is the board chairman for Iowa Rivers Revival, another group that supports the sales tax hike.

“We don’t even have a river restoration program in Iowa like other states have,” Peckumn told legislators.

Bob Riley is president of a collection of companies that annually feed over 35 million chickens, 12 million turkeys and 20 million hogs in Iowa and manage processing plants in Des Moines, Sioux City and Pacific Junction. Riley told lawmakers he’s primarily interested in keeping the federal Environmental Protection Agency “out of Iowa” — as the feds threaten to begin regulating the state’s farmers and livestock producers if state officials don’t step up their enforcement of water quality issues.

“I think one of the ways that we can do this is by passing this three-eighths-of-a-cent sales tax which will then fund the (Department of Natural Resources) and (Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship) between $30-35 million a year,” Riley said, “which I think the EPA will agree that is meaningful movement towards trying to control the nutrients that we have in our streams and to keep the soil where it belongs.”

Steve Jordison of Ames, executive director of the Iowa Parks and Recreation Association, envisions some of the money raised by the sales tax hike would go toward improving and expanding public parks.

“It’s only a $50 increase a family,” Jordison said. “I’m sorry, but I went out to dinner with my family last week and we spent more than $50 — and $50 is a small, small investment for our children, and for our families.”

Democrats intend to give the proposal an airing in a senate committee within the next two weeks.