- Associated Press - Thursday, March 24, 2016

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Republican lawmakers on Thursday announced a new funding plan for water quality initiatives in Iowa that won’t use a sales tax set aside for education infrastructure, an indication that Gov. Terry Branstad’s proposal to merge the two efforts is dead this session.

Rep. Pat Grassley, R-New Hartford and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said Republicans plan to introduce a measure that would rely on other revenue sources. That could include money generated from metered water that typically goes to the state general fund or dollars from a separate infrastructure fund. He said House Republicans believe there are other ways to fund water quality initiatives “at a sustainable level with a long-term commitment.”

Ben Hammes, a Branstad spokesman, said the Republican governor will work with lawmakers to find consensus.

“Gov. Branstad has said from day one his water quality proposal is a framework, and wants to work with lawmakers on ways we can best address the critical need to improve Iowa’s water quality,” he said in an email.

Hammes also said the governor believes any plan would require “a long-term, dedicated and growing source of revenue.”

Some Senate lawmakers criticized the House plan as well as the idea that its proposed revenue sources were long-term. Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City and chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said the general fund is already limited and several infrastructure projects need attention. He said House Republicans “don’t want to bring new resources to solve this expensive, old problem.”

Sen. David Johnson, R-Ocheyedan, said Iowa voters in 2010 approved the creation of a fund for soil and water conservation. It requires the state to raise the sales tax by less than 1 cent for it to go into effect.

“It’s so simple,” he said. “They’re complicating the issue in the House.”

Branstad’s plan would extend a 1-cent sales tax for school district building improvements that is set to expire in 2029. It would use a portion of the money to help farmers pay for environmental practices designed to improve water quality.

The proposal, which Branstad said was his “boldest initiative,” never picked up enough steam. Democrats said it would pit education against water quality. Republicans introduced separate bills with different approaches to the issue.

Rep. Matt Windschitl, R-Missouri Valley, is working with lawmakers in the House to draft language that would extend the school infrastructure fund without water quality attached to it. He couldn’t guarantee such a proposal would be resolved before the session adjourns.

The issue could cause friction in the Legislature down the road. Hammes said in his email that Branstad believes an extension of the fund should also include water quality.

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