The Iowa General Assembly will be back in session on the second Monday of January. I enter the session quite optimistic that the House, Senate and Governor Branstad will move quickly towards consensus on the major budget issues early in the session. Spending targets were generally set in the two-year budget established during the 2013 session, but as would be prudent, some changes will occur based on situational necessity.
As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture and Natural Resources, it is my responsibility to lead the negotiations and discussions for funding the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Natural Resources. This is a huge responsibility, in that Iowa leads the nation in the production of five farm/food commodities. All are derived from the land, and thus the necessity of adequately funding these two state departments, both of which are integrally involved in land and resource management. Agriculture is the bedrock of our state’s economy, and sustainability of the production of food for the world is only possible with a relentless focus on soil and water conservation and enhancement.
The state budget has always been created with the conviction that education and health and human services require the greatest fiscal attention. Thus, this current fiscal year has approximately 78% of total spending directed towards these two areas. With all other services of government competing for what remains, priorities are established that tend to become the norm. Every legislator will profess their inherent love for the land and environment, yet when it comes to providing adequate funding to allow our agencies to do the job expected of them, little remains. Less than one-half of one percent of the total state budget is directed to the Iowa Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Very shortsighted!
When the mantra of the legislature is always to “cut spending,” I can tell you who takes the greatest percentage of hits. The facts are there, in the public record, that these two departments have been hit the hardest. The result is cost share funding for soil conservation practices, our program for keeping topsoil on the land and therefore enhancing surface water quality, has been dangerously reduced. In addition, our county Soil and Water Conservation Districts operate on a bare-bones budget resulting in inadequate staff to work with farmers in accomplishing their responsibilities of soil and water protection.
I can relate a vast number of examples where the state is failing in assisting with the protection of our natural resources. I can also guarantee you that if public policy continues to ignore this issue so vital to all life, the costs in the future will be insurmountable. As for me, I shall do my best to educate my colleagues, and seek to raise the priority by returning to the funding level of a decade ago, which was double the current appropriation.
During the session, call me at 515-281-3371; write me at the Senate, Capitol Bldg., Des Moines, 50319; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org I work for you, and appreciate your opinions.