By SEN. DENNIS BLACK
The governor's State-of-the-State address this past week was surely one with which few could disagree. It was not overly substantive, but the major items were those that need attention. Bullying in schools, exempting veterans retirement benefits from state tax, freezing tuition at regent's institutions, and improving on the successes of the General Assembly from last year's session were the primary issues. The governor provided accolades to both parties for accomplishments of 2013, and to my recollection, gave no one reason to refrain from standing during the many applause lines. In other words, the address was meant to be non-partisan, and uplifting to the spirits of Iowans that the future would bring good things.
This session should not be devoted to just the above, for they have near unanimous support in both chambers. Rather, the time should be spent with serious dialogue and action concerning cutting taxes for middle class families, expanding job skills training, investing in infrastructure and creating jobs, providing adequate funding for environmental protection and enhancement, and seeking compromise that will allow Iowan's to have a livable wage from their jobs. In other words, it need not be a "do nothing" session, accomplishing only the perfunctories, and then adjourning so folks can go home and campaign for re-election. We're there to get things done, and I have a personal agenda pertaining to soil and water conservation initiatives, and getting colleagues to understand that the problems with tree diseases are real and must be considered.
My continual harping on the necessity of adequate funding to the Department of Natural Resources and Department of Agriculture has been noticed by "special interest" groups in the state. I was delighted to learn that one of the Iowa Farm Bureau's top objectives is to have the legislature appropriate the funds that would cover the state's share of completing all the current engineered plans for land improvements for soil conservation and water improvements on Iowa's farms. The state pays a third of the conservation practice costs, and the farmer pays two-thirds.
Specific plans are prepared by the Soil and Water Conservation Districts, and the statewide backlog is such that if the legislature will appropriate $18.5 million, combined with $37 million from the landowners, unprecedented progress can be made in conservation land practices. And, the $55.5 million public/private cost share would be direct job creation for land improvement contractors in Iowa. The money stays here. A caveat to this is the necessity of funding for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts to hire technicians that will oversee the planning, coordination and construction of these land practices.
Citizens need to get involved in the environmental issues. Soil health is deteriorating, and our waters need immediate attention. Yet, as long as folks can eat, and turn on the faucet and have clean water, the cry is inaudible for proactivity in our most basic and essential natural resources. Even now, it's a "catch-up", yet few want to accept the truth.
Questions or comments? Email Dennis.Black@legis.iowa.gov or call 515-281-3371.