Shattered trust: Senate bill to implement I-Will breaches public trust fails

The Iowa House and Senate approved an overhaul of the income tax system – replacing it with the flat tax. SF2206, formerly SSB3074, was the Senate’s version of the flat tax and also included measures to implement I-Will. The House version of the flat tax – HF2317 – did not include the I-Will part. The House and Senate approved HF2317.

The Sierra Club is pleased that the I-Will proposal was not included in the final bill.

The Iowa Senate is considering a bill (SF2206, formerly SSB3074) to implement the 3/8 cent sales tax that would fund the Natural Resources & Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund (commonly known as I-Will). This proposal falls flat and should be reconsidered. This bill passed the funnel and is still active.

Although we have waited a long time to implement I-Will and its 3/8 cent sales tax increase, this proposal falls short in many ways. When the Constitutional Amendment was put on the ballot and voters walked to the polling booth, voters also received a framework on how the I-Will money was going to be allocated and implemented – in Iowa code 461.31 to 461.38. This is what the voters made their decision on. The language of SF2206 (formerly SSB3074) breaks that trust.

  • Our parks and recreation areas have faced serious financial challenges – deferred maintenance, fewer park rangers, and derecho and flood damage. Throughout this time, they have experienced an increased number of visits from Iowa and out-of-state visitors who love our parks. State parks need the full funding imagined by the 3/8 cent sales tax.
  • The I-Will sales tax will expire in 2051. This is contrary to what voters expected, which was a fund with no expiry date.
  • Diverting that funding to the nutrient reduction strategy, making it the top priority, misses out on some of the benefits of state parks — providing wildlife habitat, protecting threatened and endangered species, providing recreation, and providing solitude.
  • Additionally, there are no spending limits on the nutrient reduction strategy – including ensuring and verifying that funded projects actually reduce nutrients and setting quality standards for water for nutrients and ensuring standards are met in a timely manner.
  • The bill gives Economic Development the responsibility of rating projects that are used for recreational purposes. These projects would include parks, recreation areas and water trails. This function should remain with the Department of Natural Resources. Economic development has an entirely different purpose – promoting economic development projects in the state – and should not be put in charge of parks and recreation.
  • Improvement of a terrestrial trail will only be funded if the maintenance of the trail will come from other sources. There is no reason maintenance should be excluded from I-Will funds.
  • This bill changes the distribution of funds. The award was the result of a compromise between the various parties who benefit from the 3/8 cent I-Will sales tax. There is absolutely no reason to change these allocations.
  • This bill obviously took a long time to develop, draft and refine. Yet the citizens of Iowa – the taxpayers – only have days to review it before the committee/subcommittee process begins. Going through the details in the few pages that cover the 3/8 cent sales tax took a number of hours, reviewing existing laws and thinking about changes. Frankly, citizens deserve more time than that.

It can be tempting to rush to spend money on I-Will programs, but we can do better. That’s why we’re asking Senators to remove the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund from tax reform bill SF2206 (formerly SSB307).

Have your state senator remove the I-Will edits in SF2206.

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Norman D. Briggs