IWLL_LOGODozens of environmentalists and hunters crowded into a committee room at the statehouse today to show support for a bill that would increase the state sales tax by three-eighths of a percent.

The extra $150 million that would be raised each year would be deposited in a state trust fund for water quality and wildlife habitat projects, as well as parks and trails. Kristin Aschenbrenner is a policy coordinator for the Nature Conservancy, one of more than 85 groups that support the move and call themselves the Iowa’s Water and Land Legacy coalition.

“When we had our lobby day, I guess it was about a month ago, we had hundreds of Iowans up here, the halls were packed full of people trying to talk to their legislators,” Aschenbrenner said, “so I think that we’ve shown in multiple ways that Iowans really care about this.”

In 2010 Iowa voters passed a constitutional amendment that created the trust fund, but it remains empty until the state sales tax is raised.

“We know that Iowans overwhelmingly support funding the trust,” Aschenbrenner said.

The constitutional amendment creating the Iowa Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund passed with 63 percent of the vote in 2010.

“In recent polling, support for the creation of the trust has gone up to 81 percent,” Aschenbrenner said. “Sixty-six percent of Iowans would take a straight tax increase. That goes up to about 73 percent if you do it in some way that’s revenue neutral.”

The bill that cleared a senate subcommittee this morning would raise Iowa’s sales tax rate by three-eighths of a percent and put the extra money generated in the trust fund. Aschenbrenner suggests it’s a way to keep up with other states in the region.

“Missouri and Minnesota have already implemented some kind of trust fund,” Aschenbrenner said. “And those trust funds are drawing tourism dollars to other states.”

Aschenbrenner and her parents run a farm near Cumming, Iowa, and she said farmers also see the trust fund as a source for state grants that help finance conservation measures on ag land.

“Funding is often linked to a specific watershed or a specific geographic area,” Aschenbrenner said. “Consistent, reliable funding would help us take the practices that work and implement them on a larger scale.”

Governor Branstad told Radio Iowa in January he’s not interested in raising the state sales tax for this purpose and key House Republicans have also expressed opposition to the idea.

A House committee, meanwhile, is considering a bill that would create a two-tiered state income tax system. It would give Iowans the option of choosing a so-called “flat tax” on their income. Republicans have proposed similar legislation in the past, but Democrats have opposed the move, saying it’s a significant tax cut for wealthy Iowans.