Fred Hubbell

Fred Hubbell, the Democratic Party’s nominee for governor, backs an increase in the state sales tax to finance water quality projects around the state.

The money would flow into a special state trust fund Iowa voters approved eight years ago, but state lawmakers have never approved the three-eights-of-a-cent sales tax increase that would plug money into the account. Hubbell says that increase could be phased in over three years.

“Many other states in our country have — including Minnesota and Missouri have already done it, years ago, and they’re seeing the benefits from it and we’re not,” Hubbell says, “and if we do that, it’s constitutionally protected.”

That’s because Iowa voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the fund, and specifying what the money may be spent on.

“We voters approved a constitutional amendment with more votes than Governor Branstad got in 2010,” Hubbell says. “People want this because they know that it’s going to improve their parks, their recreation, their ability to hunt and fish and recreate across the state as well as protect the top soil and improve the water quality.”

Hubbell opposes state limits on how much nitrogen and phosphorus may be applied to farm fields or urban yards. Hubbell says he supports the voluntary approach to reducing farm chemical run-off that state officials outlined five years ago, but Hubbell says the water quality funding plan Republican Governor Kim Reynolds signed in January doesn’t provide enough state money.

“The Nutrient Reduction Strategy is a good strategy going forward, but come on. It’s a $4.5 billion problem, so we need to put some serious muscle behind it,” Hubbell says, “not just $20 million a year that’s taken out of education and health care.”

Hubbell says Iowa needs a “unified effort” to address water quality concerns.

“We all need clean water and we all need our farms to be successful, so we need to work together,” Hubbell says. “Branstad and Reynolds have not done a good job of trying to bring people together to address this issue. Rather, they’ve tried to make it a fight between urban Iowa and rural Iowa. Rural Iowa needs clean water just like urban Iowa does. Urban Iowa needs farms to be successful just like rural Iowa does.”

Hubbell made his comments this morning during taping of Iowa Public Television’s “Iowa Press” program that airs tonight at 7:30.  Video of the program is online now.

Governor Branstad often said while voters in 2010 approved creating a water improvement trust fund, they did not vote to raise the sales tax. A Des Moines Register Iowa Poll conducted this past February found two-thirds of Iowans supported raising the sales tax by one percent to finance initiatives to improve water quality and mental health care options.

Pat Garrett, a campaign spokesman for Governor Reynolds, issued a written statement this afternoon. “Governor Reynolds is proud of the progress made on water quality this year and looks forward to doing more, but she does not support a stand alone tax increase like her opponent does,” Garrett said. “She would only consider it as part of a larger tax reform agreement.”