Governor Terry Branstad is blasting Iowa educators and school administrators for opposing his plan to shift some of the tax money for school infrastructure to water quality projects.
“They’re saying: ‘No, we don’t want to do anything for water quality. We want it all,'” Branstad says. “And I’m saying that, ‘Wait a minute. We’ve already invested billions of dollars. We’re willing to invest more, but we think there is another critical issue that needs to be addressed and that is water quality.’ And we have a plan to do that.”
However, Branstad’s plan to extend the one-cent sales tax for school infrastructure another 20 years and dedicate the inflationary growth in that tax to water quality will not win approval in the 2016 legislature. Branstad’s fellow Republicans in the House propose diverting $28 million in state sales taxes charged on water usage each year. Representative Pat Grassley, a Republican from New Hartford, says the “ball will start rolling” on that plan this week.
“It would be a long-term investment by the State of Iowa in water quality,” Grassley says.
Branstad is holding out hope he can convince legislators to embrace his plan in future years.
“I understand there’s some people in the legislature that think it’s something they’re not willing to take on at this point in time,” Branstad says. “But I think as we continue to educate people of the benefits it would provide…that there’s an opportunity to grow and build support for that kind of long-term, reliable source of funding.”
But Grassley says the water quality plan House Republicans have devised comes up with just as much if not more money than the governor did for water quality initiatives in the next decade.
“The plan that we’ll come up with over the next 10 years I would say would be as aggressive if not more aggressive from that standpoint in making that long-term commitment,” Grassley says.
Republican House Speaker Linda Upmeyer of Clear Lake says there have been many private discussions among House Republicans, Senate Democrats and the governor’s staff to hammer out a water quality plan.
“When we came into session, this was a priority of everyone in the building and so to move forward, to get something done, we’re going to have to work together to get that done,” Upmeyer says. “My hope is that it’s bipartisan and provides a good solution.”
Lawmakers are hoping to make key budget decisions and conclude the work of the 2016 legislative session by April 19. That’s the 100th day of the 2016 session and it’s the final day on which legislators get a $148 daily stipend to cover living expenses in Des Moines. However, legislators from Polk County get less: $111 a day.