A month ago, Governor Kim Reynolds launched the first ad for her “This is Iowa” campaign aimed at getting people to visit, live and work in the state. Reynolds is using federal COVID-19 aid funds to air the ads.
The commercial features lush landscapes, waterfront recreation, and scenic shots of Iowa’s urban and rural areas. However, the image featured in the ad does not convey the lack of political interest in preserving Iowa’s natural attractions.
In 2010, Iowa residents voted to establish the Natural Resource and Outdoor Recreation Trust, a sustainable, ready-to-use fund for conservation and development projects in Iowa. But despite its existence, the fund never had any money in it.
Reynolds’ urge to lure people to Iowa would be the perfect time to bring it up again, said Rep. Chris Hall, a Democrat from Sioux City.
“We have a lot of beautiful landscapes. We have beautiful parks and rivers. We have a reputation for running one of the most iconic bike tours in the United States of Iowa and an interest in the use of trails, and all of these things make up a landscape that is attractive to young families, ”he said.
What could be
The trust fund would provide reliable money to projects that maintain and improve water quality, outdoor recreation and wildlife habitats.
This includes building and maintaining trails, parks, and waterways while creating connections and purifying the water, according to Joe McGovern, president of the Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation.
Some potential projects include a path in Fremont County to connect a city to the larger Wabash Trace Nature Trail, the purchase of farmland in the Missouri River floodplain that is no longer good for planting but could be restored for wildlife , and repairing bridges in the Raccoon River Valley path.
McGovern said there will be particular focus on projects that have multiple benefits.
“A wetland purifies the water, but it also provides habitat for recreational opportunities for wildlife such as canoeing, kayaking, hunting and fishing,” he said. “So we can always spend a dollar to get multiple benefits that for me are the best way to spend public dollars.”
What’s in the way
The public money would come from a sales tax increase of 3/8 cents and flow into the fund if necessary.
However, this is the main obstacle to funding the trust.
With Republicans now focused on cutting taxes, Hall said even a small increase wouldn’t necessarily happen with the current leadership. But environmental groups have said they are ready to negotiate other funding mechanisms, and Hall said Republicans should be open to those talks if they are serious about luring people into the state.
The projects would touch Iowa’s culture, natural resources, and recreational opportunities, all areas that families reported to the Iowa Economic Development Authority would make Iowa an attractive place to live.
“If the Republicans are in the majority now, and the governor of her party has recognized this as her own need and priority, if this is something the business world has said to attract the next generation of workers, that’s all.” strong case for investing itself, ”said Hall.
Ready to go
Many projects are “shovel-ready,” said McGovern. As soon as the money is available, the projects will start.
“We will see immediate results, there is no question that we will see trails, parks, infrastructure, wetlands. The pace will pick up very quickly, ”he said.
These projects would also be competitive as the money would only go to projects that are most likely to be successful.
“There’s so much demand,” said McGovern. “I mean, you’re talking about 20, 30 million requests in just a few million dollars.”
Hall said if Reynolds gave the OK, Republicans in the legislature would likely step on board to make it happen.
“It is the governor’s decision to make this a priority and really move it forward or include it in the wider conversation about tax reform,” Hall said. “I think if Reynolds did that, the subject would have an instant dynamic that it doesn’t have.”
In her press release announcing the “This is Iowa” ad, which was paid in part with federal Covid-19 bailouts, Reynolds said the initiative was designed to attract people to the state by using Iowa’s natural resources Cost of living, labor, and convenience in business areas.
“The initiative supports government efforts to attract new residents and train existing workers to fill a growing number of high-demand vacancies,” she said.
The Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund could help with that.