- Associated Press - Monday, August 1, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Gov. Terry Branstad on Monday said he’s meeting with several groups this summer to discuss a new proposal to fund water quality initiatives in the state, but it’s unclear if the idea will have enough backing in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

Branstad told reporters he’s been traveling around Iowa to meet with farmers, educators and community leaders to discuss water quality and to pitch a plan that would use money typically designated for school infrastructure to pay for water improvement.

The idea is similar to a plan the Republican governor announced in January that failed to garner enough support during the legislative session. Some Democratic lawmakers said that first plan pitted education against water quality. Branstad’s office insisted the funding system would have eventually generated more money for education.

The initial proposal aimed to immediately scoop money from an existing 1-cent sales tax fund that goes toward school infrastructure. The latest plan would allow that fund to expire in 2029, as scheduled, but then use a new 1-cent sales tax to pay for both school infrastructure and water quality.

It all translates into a different funding formula that would go into effect later than expected.

“We need long-term reliable funding,” Branstad said.

The issue comes amid growing discussion in the Legislature over how to pay to keep the state’s waterways clean. The GOP-controlled House passed legislation that would use some other funding streams to pay for some water quality initiatives, but it didn’t pass in the Democratic-led Senate.

Branstad was vague about whether his latest plan has support in the Senate, where leaders have not commented on it. Branstad noted he may have more success if Republicans take control of the chamber in the upcoming November election.

Democratic Sen. Joe Bolkcom leads a Senate committee that could potentially address this plan if it becomes a bill. Bolkcom said he has reservations about the new proposal because it would eventually reduce school infrastructure funding. He added that agriculture groups linked to farm runoff should help pay for water quality initiatives.

“(Branstad’s) proposal doesn’t say anything about every ag producer and business’ need to have skin in the game,” Bolkcom said.

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