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Hundreds in Blue Flood Statehouse to Push for Water Plan

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DES MOINES, Iowa  --  Conservationists, hunters, kayakers and other outdoor enthusiasts pushed Iowa lawmakers on Tuesday to agree on a way to put more money into efforts to improve the environment.

Most of their "Fund the Trust" efforts involved lobbying legislators to finally fund the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. That would mean raising the state's sales tax 3/8th of a cent, something 63% of Iowa voters approved in 2010.

"People care about the environment," said Mike Shannon, a biologist from Boone. Shannon was among the several hundred people in light blue shirts hoping to get legislators' attention.

"It's a legacy to your kids," he said of the efforts to fund the trust, which would raise money for water quality, conservation, and recreational improvements in the state.

"Part of my fear is we're pushing too much water to our rivers," said Katie Hammond of Louisa County, who also supports the higher sales tax.

Republican lawmakers have been hesitant to fund the trust, despite previous approval from voters, because they don't want to raise taxes. Governor Terry Branstad has echoed that hesitance.

Supporters of the higher sales tax are looking at a plan that would try to offset that increase by decreasing the state income tax for lower earners.

Representative Chip Baltimore, a Boone Republican, is getting behind another effort. He wants to implement a new funding structure. He would end the state sales tax on metered water and instead implement an excise tax. The Iowa Finance Authority would then bond a pool of money through the Revolving Loan Trust. Entities could then borrow from that trust and repay it later. Baltimore estimates that could provide a funding stream of $20 million a year, potentially for 15-25 years, with the ability to add additional money when state revenues are stronger.

Environmentalists worry that just removes a chunk of money each year from state revenues, which will necessitate cuts elsewhere, rather than providing a new, reliable source of funding.