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Branstad's comments cast doubt on survival of conservation funding

WEST DES MOINES, Iowa – Last week the Iowa legislature appropriated $11.2 million in one-time funds to conservation in its FY2015 budget. The funding is allocated to 4 areas which did not receive appropriations in Governor Terry Branstad’s proposed budget, released in January.

Iowa Farm Bureau President Craig Hill said addressing those areas brought this year’s total conservation funds to record levels.

“We’re very pleased,” said Hill. “[It’s] the second-highest level of conservation that we’ve had in the history of Iowa, the last year being the highest level: $34 million last year, $28 million this year. This is just a fraction of the cost that farmers put out; $100 million in excess of that every year from farmers alone. So this is just an incentive that helps.”

Yet, the legislature’s budget will land on the governor’s desk, where he can veto specific line items. Speaking Friday, Hill was optimistic conservation funding will survive the governor’s pen.

“I think the governor supports this voluntary commitment to conservation, and I would expect his signature,” said Hill, “but I can’t speak for the Governor, of course.”

But comments made by Branstad at a press conference yesterday indicate the one-time funding will have a fight ahead of it.

“I will express concern about the fact that [the legislature] did some one-time spending in a one-time spending bill,” said Branstad, “which, by the way, is spent in this fiscal year’s budget. Not the budget they were supposed to address: 2015. And my concern is to protect the commitments we made last year to property tax releif and reimbursing cities and counties, and to the schoolchildren and the teachers of Iowa, with the phase-in of our education reforms. I want to make sure the resources are there to pay for that, and so we will be carefully scrutinizing the spending, especially this one-time spending bill.”

Hill pointed out that conservation has found no shortage of support this session from both sides of aisle.

“We have been very impressed this past legislative session how both parties have worked together around the issues of conservation. We really didn’t have a cross-party opposition to anything that we requested. So I think everybody in the legislature sees the benefits of this.” Hill added that “it’s an ongoing effort. We won’t guarantee results right away. You can’t change nature, or change the dynamics of these things in just a few years. But over time, we’re making progress.”

To hear more on next year’s conservation funding, click here.