House Republicans have unveiled more details for the first phase of their new water quality initiative.
Republican Governor Terry Branstad’s idea of using millions of dollars in sales taxes collected for school infrastructure on water quality projects instead is going nowhere this year.
The House Ways and Means Committee today overwhelmingly voted to tap into another tax. Grants for wastewater treatment plants and drinking water utilities would be financed with the sales taxes Iowans pay for water usage.
Democratic Representative Sharon Steckman of Mason City and Republican Representative Peter Cownie of West Des Moines had this discussion about the bill during the committee meeting: “How does this proposal address any nitrogen or phosphorous pollution going into the water?” Steckman asked.
Cownie replied: “This doesn’t.”
Steckman continued: “It’s kind of like a band aid. We’re going to fix the water in these communities, but we’re not fixing why it’s coming in the way it is.”
Cownie said: “There’s no silver bullet for what we can do here. This is a start.”
While nearly all the committee’s Republicans and Democrats voted for the bill, some wondered aloud whether the legislature will ever agree this year to help rural Iowans — including farmers — finance water quality projects. Representative Todd Pritchard of Charles City said the bill’s about improving drinking water and that’s a worthy goal.
“But in turning towards water quality, I would like a more comprehensive bill,” Pritchard said. “…I have landowners and farmers who are asking quite vocally, quite consistently and for a long time for cost-share programs and for ways to work with the state and the county and the city to clean up the water before it gets to the water treatment center.”
Still, Pritchard and most of the other Democrats on the committee supported the small-scale effort. Representative Dave Jacoby of Coralville suggested it was better late than never.
“The House Democrats are damned excited to have a water quality bill in front of us,” Jacoby said during committee discussion
Cownie suggested there’s plenty of time to hammer out some sort of a compromise before legislators are scheduled to adjourn for the year on April 19.
“I’m a patient man,” Cownie said. “Wait for good things to happen.”
Phase two of this effort is expected next week. It’s likely to involve redirecting state gambling taxes toward water quality projects. Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal today said he and his fellow Senate Democrats will give whatever House Republicans come up with a “good, fair look,” but he warns there are lots of people pulling in different directions on this issue.