“You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

“You’ve gotta walk the walk before you can talk the talk.”

In nearly 14 years contributing to the Globe Gazette, I’ve written about improving Iowa’s water quality so often it’s starting to feel cliché. So why not lead with a few?

Those old truisms still hold true while accurately characterizing recent water-quality “efforts” by Iowa’s leaders.

In her Condition of the State address, Gov. Kim Reynolds said, “My hope is that a water-quality bill is the first piece of legislation I sign as governor.”

Yet her proposed budget for natural resources is essentially status quo, while Republican plans to address water quality would shift up to $27 million annually from support for education, local government and building infrastructure.

For several years, K-12 education has received budget increases barely proportionate to inflation, while most other agencies have seen flat or declining appropriations.

Revenue projections indicate the next budget will offer more of the same.

No area of state government can withstand another hit while still adequately performing its current functions, and thus far leaders have not indicated specifically what they’d like the state to stop doing.

Further $27 million, while a huge sum to most regular folks, represents only a small fraction of what’s needed to address water quality challenges statewide.

Revisiting those clichés, Reynolds and Republican legislative leaders need to stop trying to make silk purses out of sows’ ears, stop talkin’ and start walkin’.

A mechanism to do so already exists.

In 2010, 63 percent of voting Iowans approved the constitutionally protected Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund.

The trust directs the first 3/8 of a cent from any future sales tax increase — almost $188 million annually at present — toward funding conservation needs.

More than 60 percent of this dedicated, sustainable revenue would support practices beneficial to water quality, while all of the money would contribute in some way to outdoor recreational opportunities that improve public health and helping Iowa to attract and retain both employers and workers.

The trust and its enabling legislation are already in place. Legislators need only approve the sales tax increase to start the funds flowing.

Doing so, however, would fly in the face of another Republican cliché: taxes are always too high, government is always too big and spending is always unnecessary, wasteful and excessive.

Nearly two-thirds of voters felt differently in 2010, and recent polling indicates their opinion hasn’t changed.

Supporters of the trust need to energize, mobilize and convince their legislators the time has come to enact the sales tax increase numerous Iowans have wanted for over a decade.

Yet there are influential Republican constituencies opposed to this or any tax increase. Alienating these core supporters would carry sizable political risk.

Breaking this partisan stalemate requires a plan offering something substantial to placate the pro-business and anti-tax base.

Another key Republican priority is to reform the state’s income tax by simplifying the code, lowering the rates and broadening the base.

While most would like to cut taxes in the process, current budget realities make doing so difficult if not impossible.

A 1-cent increase in the sales tax would be simple, broad-based (everybody pays) and would fully fund the trust while leaving more than $300 million in additional new revenue available to fund income tax reform.

Income tax cuts usually provide the most benefit to those with the most income, making them about as popular with liberal Democrats as tax increases are with conservative Republicans.

Forging such a grand bargain would require open-mindedness — and a great deal of courage — from both sides of the isle, but the benefits could prove well worth the political costs.

After all, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Tim Ackarman, a regular columnist for the Globe Gazette, lives in Miller.

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