Gov. Kim Reynolds asked for it two weeks ago and she got it: The Legislature, after failing for more than two years, passed a much-anticipated bill to improve Iowa's water quality.
Now she should ask for more.
More debate. More monitoring of the state's lakes, rivers and streams. More collaboration between cities, farmers and other groups to create regional projects. And dare we say, more (and new) money.
Water quality is a complicated topic, certainly deserving of more than the hour of discussion that happened Tuesday in the Iowa House.
But in some ways the issue is simple. The state's own Iowa Nutrient Reduction Strategy estimates that, depending on the scenarios used, reducing pollutants from agriculture and industrial sources could cost $3 billion to $6 billion.
The bill the governor is preparing to sign provides $282 million over the next 12 years. That's not even a drop in the Raccoon River.
How will Iowa bridge this difference?
It's not just environmental groups asking for more. The Iowa Soybean Association called the bill that passed this week a "timid response."
"It's nibbling around the edges of what's truly needed," said the group's CEO, Kirk Leeds. "While some additional funding continues to point us in the right direction, it doesn't get us too much further down the road in achieving the kind of results we all know are attainable and necessary."
It's not just Democrats asking for more. Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, ripped his colleagues' "failure of leadership." Instead of supporting legislation that involves all Iowans in answers, lawmakers passed a bill that "lays water quality, and the problems and solutions for water quality, squarely at the feet of Iowa's farmers. That is a disservice to them," he said on the House floor.
Two years ago, then-Gov. Terry Branstad asked for more. His proposal would have allocated $4.7 billion to water quality efforts by drawing from a school infrastructure fund. The idea was unpopular with both parties, but it contained the boldness this topic deserves.
Gov. Reynolds knows the bill (which she signed into law) isn't enough. She said so: "Passing this long-awaited legislation does not mean the water quality discussion is over," she said. "It should ignite a continuing conversation as we begin to implement and scale best practices that will continue to make an impact on water quality in Iowa."
That conversation should carry over into another one of the governor's priorities, tax reform. It's an ideal time to consider funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Act through a sales tax of three-eighths of a cent.
Iowans have already said yes to this. They said it by voting in 2010 for the fund. They've said it in numerous polls since, including one released this month showing 69 percent support the tax. That includes 52 percent of voters polled who identify as conservative Republicans and 64 percent of farmers.
They know more needs to be done.
Up to 60 percent of the estimated $150 million to $180 million generated annually by sales tax could go toward improving, protecting and restoring waterways, according to a report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
No, that's not enough, either. But it's more, and the governor should ask for it.
Des Moines Register, Jan. 25.