DES MOINES — State Agriculture Secretary Bill Northey told Gov. Kim Reynolds on Monday he hopes the GOP-run Legislature approves a long-term proposal early in the 2018 session to finance conservation practices that improve Iowa’s water quality.
Efforts to pass such legislation earlier this year stalled when the House and Senate were unable to reach a compromise on two competing approaches approved separately by majority Republicans. Outgoing Gov. Terry Branstad called it one of the session’s biggest disappointments before he stepped down to become U.S. ambassador to China.
“I would hope and certainly have heard a lot of interest in the Legislature for a long-term water quality funding proposal and I would hope that that comes out of session very early,” said Northey, who is awaiting U.S. Senate confirmation to a U.S. agriculture post.
Reynolds, who is in the process of assembling her first state budget proposal to submit to lawmakers in January, told Northey that “I’m hoping it’s the first bill that I get to sign as governor of the state of Iowa.”
As part of his agency’s fiscal 2019 budget request, Northey sought continued funding of $10.58 million to support the Iowa Water Quality Initiative as well as seeking long-term funding for water quality efforts.
Last session, the Senate agreed to pump up to $50 million annually into water-quality improvements through 2029 after turning back an effort to raise a state sales tax that would have generated considerably more.
Senators voted 31-19 to use a mix of a water metering tax and the gambling-funded revenue available after the state pays off bonds for community attractions and tourist destinations under the Vision Iowa Program. The state money would go toward cost-sharing plans to address water quality challenges — from urban wastewater issues to farm runoff.
Passage of Senate File 512 came after senators rejected an effort to fund conservation, recreation and water quality improvements by increasing the state sales by three-eighths of a penny. That would generate up to $200 million to be deposited in the voter-approved and constitutionally projected Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.
For its part, the House favored a version that would make $513 million available for water quality improvements from 2019 to 2031. Slightly less than half would come from the excise tax on metered water, which would be phased in and split between helping finance loans and grants. The excise tax money would supplement the more-than $20 million a year in existing funds and, under the House plan, would be used for edge-of-field and infield water and soil conservation, demonstration projects, research and water quality measurements.
Northey said he prefers the Senate version passed last session, which was the House bill one year earlier before changes were made.
In his meeting with Reynolds, Northey also requested $1.88 million in continued funding to support the closure of agriculture drainage wells. Of the 300 registered wells in Iowa, Northey said 16 remain to be closed at an estimated cost of $5.63 million annually over three years.
He also sought an additional $150,000 for the Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship’s Animal Industry Bureau to provide additional support for preparations for and potentially responding to a disease outbreak.
The department received $100,000 in funding starting this fiscal year to support preparations, and a portion of that money was used to hire an emergency management veterinarian. The additional funds would go toward accelerating emergency response plans, organizing response exercises and expanding coordination with industry.