Iowans to vote on constitutional amendment for conservation - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Iowans to vote on constitutional amendment for conservation

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DUBUQUE (KWWL) -- Iowa ballots ask voters whether to amend the constitution to set aside part of any future sales tax increase for the environment.

There are two opposing sides, both say they are in favor of a better planet.

A group of those in favor of the constitutional amendment met Wednesday at Dubuque's Mines of Spain state recreation area. Driftless Area Initiative's executive director John Walsh was among them.

"We're here today to talk about the new legislation that's been passed by the Iowa House and Senate last year and now is in the form of a Constitutional amendment that's going to be on the ballot in November," Walsh said, "and we're here to urge people to consider voting for that amendment, which would set up a trust fund, which would provide money for conservation."

"For every dollar spent, it would be 3/8th of a cent would go to conservation," Sierra Club member Charles Winterwood said.

The money coming out of sales tax would only go into effect if voters approved the constitutional amendment and when, in the future, lawmakers would decide to raise the sales tax.

"One misperception is that taxes are going to go up immediately, and, in fact, that's not the case," Walsh said. "Taxes will only be increased if the state Legislature decides to do so at some subsequent date."

Not everybody trusts the proposed trust fund.

"The Farm Bureau is opposed to that Constitutional amendment for a number of reasons," Iowa Farm Bureau member Paul Vaassen said. "By having this constitutional amendment, we're really looking at the unknown. What's going to happen down the road, who's going to be taxed, where's the money going to go, is it going to be used properly?"

Vaassen said it's not a question of the importance of conservation.

"Farm bureau is very conservation-minded and have been in the forefront of securing funds from the Iowa Legislature for conservation practices," he said.

However, setting aside money for conservation via a constitutional amendment, he said, could undermine other future needs.

"There may be issues that come up that require a sales tax that may be more important than conservation, such as education or public safety," Vaassen said.

Those in favor say it's about time Iowa puts more money toward conservation.

"Iowa is 47th in the nation in environmental spending," Trees Forever president Shannon Ramsay said. "We should all be very concerned about that. It's about our children's future - building a legacy and being sure that our environment is sound for the future."

Those in favor say money from the proposed Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund would go toward soil conservation, state parks, securing public land and the Department of Agriculture, among other uses.

The Iowa Farm Bureau expresses concern over making decisions for future taxpayers by writing the trust fund permanently into the Iowa Constitution.

Despite the different stances, both sides say conservation is important and urge voters to turn their ballots over -- this initiative is on the back -- and vote November 2.

Online Reporter Becca Habegger

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