Long-term, sustainable funding for water quality

Upmeyer Column: We had many visitors from the community colleges at the Capitol this week for their annual Day on the Hill. As the product of a community college and a former Trustee, it was great to have the chance to talk with some folks from NIACC who were visiting. It's always good to catch up with the people from back home while they are in Des Moines.

Another week in the session has gone by and members remain hard at work moving bills through committee and subcommittee and receiving updates from various state departments. We are still working through the current budget and determining what adjustments need to be made to ensure we have a balanced budget.

I've recently received some postcards from students at North Butler encouraging me to support an increase in school funding and address some of the equity issues that rural districts face. I couldn't agree more with this priority and I'm proud of the accomplishments we've been able to produce for K-12 schools in recent years.

Over the last seven years, funding for schools is up $735 million, bringing total yearly funding to almost $3.2 billion. This accounts for 45 percent of the state's entire budget. Additionally, we have more than 800 more full-time teachers in Iowa classrooms to reduce class sizes and teach our kids. Perhaps most importantly, is that even in difficult budget years, schools have been protected from any reductions and have actually been given more money. We've also worked closely with school districts and administrators to provide them with much-needed flexibility and local control. This demonstrates our strong commitment to Iowa's kids, parents, teachers, and school officials.

This session we're looking at investing even more dollars in K-12, provide schools with even more flexibility, and examine some of the equity issues schools face. Stay tuned!

For three years, the Iowa House has been discussing ways to improve our state's water quality, reducing farm runoff and making improvements to aging water infrastructure. Each of the last two years we passed a water quality bill but couldn't reach final consensus on how we wanted to address the issue. At the beginning of session, Governor Kim Reynolds challenged the Legislature to send her a water quality bill and make that the first piece of legislation she signs as Governor.

This week, we made the Governor's request a reality by passing Senate File 512 on a bipartisan vote, which will make a huge investment in water quality projects across the state. Senate File 512 will contribute long-term, sustainable funding to water quality projects at both the urban and rural levels.

Funding for these projects will come from two sources, investing $282 million over 12 years. This new funding is in addition to efforts that are already underway in Iowa, which last year totaled more than $400 million.

This new funding will be used to help finance upgrades to water infrastructure in our cities and counties to ensure clean drinking water for Iowans. It will also be used to continue further implementation of the research-based Nutrient Reduction Strategy to reduce farm runoff and help the ag community finance conservation practices.

Even though we have a funding structure in place, this doesn't mean that the water quality conversation is over. Legislators will continue working on the policy pieces of this issue and have already begun discussions on what future legislation may look like. We understand that water quality is a generational issue, which will require near constant work and review.

At the end of the day, this bill puts us on a path to ensure that Iowans have access to clean drinking water and that our natural resources will be preserved for future generations.

As always, please keep in touch. As legislation moves forward, feel free to send me comments, questions or feedback that you may have regarding issues before us in the House. I can be reached at linda.upmeyer@legis.iowa.gov or 515-281-3521.