Long: Conservation fund still needs funding



Land Conservation

Craig Long

Politics is a dirty game, both nationally and locally. In Iowa, last election cycle, a historic campaign was brought upon the state to remove the Supreme Court justices who were up for retention. That campaign was due to the unanimous Varnum v. Brien decision, which granted the right to gay marriage across our great state.

Since then, the word “mandate” has been used a lot by some Republicans in the state, when advocating the removal of the other four justices. It’s not just a locally known term, either. Following the Tea Party wave of 2010, the word was used to advocate a multitude of things, from cutting taxes to reducing the deficit and spending.

While voter mandates are an elusive concept to grasp, they do have a political use. They are used for posturing, to attempt to lend credence to a particular stance based on an election result. An incumbent of 30 years losing an election badly could be seen as a mandate. Also, votes on public issues, propositions and amendments can also be viewed as mandates.

In Iowa, we’ve missed one. In 2010, an amendment was passed to the Iowa Constitution. It passed with 63 percent of the vote. In case that doesn’t seem like much, recall the percentages of the following elections: Gov. Terry Brandstad (53 percent) and Sen. Charles Grassley (64 percent) for another term; Supreme Court Justices David Baker (54 percent), Michael Streit (54 percent) and Marsha Ternus (55 percent), for removal.

The amendment, seemingly the least divisive and most well supported issue on the ballot this side of Chuck Grassley, created a “natural resources fund.” It is funded via our state-wide sales tax and goes toward preservation and improvement of our State Parks, as well as soil and water conservation. The program is already making a tremendous difference in the state.

Oh, wait, I made a mistake. The fund has been entirely ineffectual. It has done exactly nothing for the state, our waterways, parks and farmers. That’s because it hasn’t been funded yet. See, the amendment was written so that a percentage of any sales tax increase goes directly to it, not any money from current sales taxes.

Therein lies the mandate. Where it has been said the removal of the three Supreme Court Justices was a mandate, so the others should resign, this mandate has gone largely unnoticed. It was passed with roughly 9 percent more support than the ouster of the Justices, yet our legislature has done nothing to fund it in the past two years.

We desperately need that funding. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 53 percent of the waterways in our state rate as poor. We currently rank 47th in conservation spending by state. We rank next to last in percentage of land available for public use.

We have tremendous natural resources in this state. But you don’t have to go far to see the effects of the low funding. For instance, at Ledges State Park in Boone, Iowa, the road into the lower area of the park has been closed for as long as I’ve been visiting it. Damage from the floods last spring still has not been attended to. It’s not the only state park that has gone neglected.

Finally, for this fiscal year (ending June 30) the amount of workers hired has been doubled from what it was the previous year. But that’s not enough. Temporary funding in this political climate is not enough to embark on the type of projects needed to preserve and modernize our public areas. It’s a short term fix to a long term problem.

It’s time, at least in this instance, to stop treating the word “tax” as a dirty word. When I voted for the Amendment, I was under the assumption that a slight tax increase would follow shortly. I’m sure many others did as well.

Nothing is likely to happen this year because of the upcoming elections. Politicians tend to get tax-scared around election time, fearing that they will be voted out. But that doesn’t mean that they won’t listen. Contact your representatives and tell them what you think. At the very least, if the public shows an interest, perhaps by this time next year, our state will have the funding it deserves.