Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Terry Branstad.

Governor Branstad’s plan to divert some state sales taxes collected for school infrastructure and spend it on water quality projects in the future has cleared its first statehouse hurdle.

“This is the governor’s only priority bill this legislative session,” Bramstad aide Ted Stopulos told legislators today. “…Trying to identify a long-term source of funding for water quality and that’s what this bill is designed to do.”

A House subcommittee gave tentative approval to the bill this afternoon, but adjustments to the plan are expected before the bill is voted upon by the House Ag Committee. Some legislators oppose the tax shift, while others are proposing alternative plans.

A one-percent sales tax is currently collected in Iowa and distributed to schools for construction and renovation of school facilities as well as property tax relief. Branstad proposes extending the tax through 2049 and using inflationary growth for water quality projects. Emily Piper, a lobbyist for the Iowa Association of School Boards, warned the bill as currently crafted will cut the amount of tax relief for Iowa property owners.

“It will immediately reduce the amount of funding going for property tax relief from $6 million a year to $210,000,” she said during the subcommittee hearing.

Groups like the Iowa Great Lakes Association are lined up behind the governor’s approach. Other groups would support the measure, if it’s adjusted. Bob Rafferty, a lobbyist for the Iowa American Water Company, said his investor-owned utility wants to be able to apply for the new state water quality grants.

“I think if Flint, Michigan, has taught us anything, it’s that we too often take our drinking water for granted and ensuring our water sources as well as our drinking water are safe and clean is very important and this type of legislation can help ensure that into the future,” Rafferty said.

But others, like Marian Gelb of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation warn the plan will fail to provide enough money to address the problem.

“The governor has finally admitted that we have serious water quality issues in the state and that we have a serious need to significant need for state investment,” Gelb said this afternoon. “…Those monies need to be immediate and sufficient to address these issues.”

Among the alternative ideas: raising the state sales tax by one percent and dedicating a portion of the money raised to water quality. Another legislator has proposed a dramatic reduction in property taxes for property owners who install conservation measures to reduce run-off and improve water quality.