Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey yesterday thanked Gov. Terry Branstad and Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds for including $7.5 million for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative in their budget proposal. This proposal continues their strong support for a voluntary, science-based approach to improving water quality, building on the $2.4 million and $4.4 million received from the general fund in fiscal years 2014 and 2015 to support water quality, says Northey.
"The governor's strong support for the Iowa Water Quality Initiative has been critically important and the $7.5 million provided in his budget would help us build on that exciting progress that has already been made," Northey adds. "The legislature has also been extremely supportive of voluntary, science based water quality efforts and I look forward to working with legislators on a bipartisan basis in both the House and Senate on this budget request as we go through the appropriations process."
Programs to help engage all Iowans to improve water quality
The $7.5 million for the Water Quality Initiative would allow the state ag department to offer cost-share funding statewide to farmers who are trying new water quality practices. The money would also continue work in targeted watersheds to achieve measurable water quality improvements, expand urban conservation efforts, and develop new programs to help engage all Iowans in improving water quality.
Branstad also included $6.75 million for the state's regular conservation cost-share program in his budget. For over four decades, Iowa's soil conservation cost-share program has encouraged the adoption of soil conservation structures and practices to protect and preserve Iowa's natural resources and improve water quality. Last year alone, the state's $9.5 million investment generated $13 million in matching funds from Iowa farmers and land owners to support conservation practices.
The Iowa governor's budget also included $1.92 million to support the closure of eight additional agriculture drainage wells in the state to protect groundwater quality.
Infrastructure improvement tops Branstad's list of priorities for 2015
To help start the 2015 session of the Iowa Legislature this week, Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad yesterday delivered his 2015 "Condition of the State" address in front of a joint session of the legislature. Branstad's address, titled "Together We Can," is what he calls "a forward-thinking plan for Iowa's future." The governor's plan of action places a focus on infrastructure – both in terms of high-speed broadband Internet and in funding for Iowa's roads and bridges – along with safe and secure schools and communities, revitalized parks, trails and museums, and increased government transparency.
"It matters that we work together," said Branstad in his Condition of the State address. "The successes we should serve as guideposts for a familiar journey of coming together to help Iowans create more jobs, live better lives and grow prosperity throughout our state."
Broadband Internet proposal is to "Connect Every Acre" in Iowa
The governor is again proposing action to "Connect Every Acre" in Iowa with broadband Internet service. Branstad's administration is asking the Legislature to create a $5 million grant program. State dollars would be used to fund expansions of Internet lines into unserved and underserved areas of the state. That approach is a departure from a bill that failed to pass in 2014. That measure relied mainly on tax incentives to spur new investments and was widely viewed as insufficient by state lawmakers.
Other highlights from the Branstad-Reynolds 2015 legislative plan include a biennial balanced budget: "Our work has put us on a bright, sustainable path. Our budget is balanced, our state maintains a budget surplus, our economic emergency accounts are fully funded and our unemployment rate is the 10th lowest in the nation," the 68-year-old Iowa governor said. Branstad offered a lengthy list of priorities as he starts his 21st year in office. His list includes a mix of previous agenda items, promises from last year's campaign and some entirely new proposals. Budget highlights include:
• The governor's budget proposal is balanced and fits within the five-year budget projections.
• It calls for fully funding the state's property tax reform and education reform commitments.
• Allocates $320 million in new dollars for Iowa schools over two years.
• Provides funding to enable a freeze in tuition at Iowa's Regent universities for the third-straight year.
• Iowa has invested over $92 million into improving water quality since 2013. Governor Branstad and Lt. Governor Reynolds' budget recommends a total of $63.2 million to continue improving water quality in Iowa. (That's $31.6 million in FY16 and $31.6 million in FY17).
• The state of Iowa's General Fund budget recommendation from the Branstad administration for FY16 is $7.32 billion. Their General Fund budget recommendation for FY17 is $7.5 billion.