My email's blowing up, lawmakers must be busy

Action Alert!

Call to Action!

Act Now!

Urgent Update!

Ah, yes. They must be busy in Des Moines. My inbox is exploding with urgent calls to action regarding new legislation. At the glacial pace that government tends to work, it's amazing how urgently some issues can flare up. 

In this case, there are two that concern me and the other folks in my industry. The first, and most urgent I suppose, is what is currently listed as Senate Study Bill 3134 (note that bill titles change as they move through the process so it's likely to have a new name depending on when you read this). This bill would prevent the DNR and, interestingly, County Conservation Boards from purchasing land at fair market value. Instead, such land could only be purchased at a 'capped price' which is based on a tiered percentage scale based on the type of land and the estimated value, as determined by the biannual Farmland Value Survey (which I had never heard of until now) conducted by the Realtors Land Institute - Iowa Chapter (again, an unknown entity to me). 

Here's how the tiered system would work, as currently written in the bill:

  • For timber and nontillable pasture, the capped price would be eighty percent of the estimated value, as determined by the survey noted above.
  • For low-quality cropland, seventy-five percent.
  • For medium-quality cropland, seventy percent.
  • For high-quality cropland, sixty-five percent.

What the difference between low, medium, and high quality cropland is, or who decides such, is not exactly clear to me at this point. 

In practice, here's how I assume this would work: A landowner in my county has some land that he (or she) would like to see go into public ownership. They contact me and offer to sell it to my county conservation department. Ordinarily, we'd do an appraisal and settle on a price at or below that value. Under this new law, were it to pass, we'd have to figure out what some statewide organization decides is the value of that local piece of land, then offer a percentage thereof to the landowner - somewhere between 65 and 80 percent, depending on its cropland quality. 

Oh, and under the new law, the difference between the fractional sale price and the full appraised value could not be claimed by the landowner as a conservation tax credit, the way it could be now if that landowner were to sell the land at the same bargain percentage. 

As of this writing, there's not a single entity registered in favor of this bill (though there are some that are suspiciously absent from the list - see the end of this post). So why is it so URGENT that we act to squash it? Because it's one of those bills that seems to be getting ramrodded through like a light saber through a butter cow. It was introduced the afternoon of February 9 and sent straight to a subcommittee meeting less than 24 hours later. 

For comparison, the constitutionally established Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, approved by 63% of Iowa voters in 2010, is still awaiting legislative action. It's been a shy 12 years now. 

But we public land supporters are used to taking urgent action. When the ducks are flying, the fish are biting, or the legislature is screwing with our beloved lands, we know to act fast. The next day, we filled the room where the subcommittee meeting was held and another 100+ of us attended virtually, through the Zoom link they provided. There was time allotted for several attendees to speak, and all spoke in opposition. 

The senators on the subcommittee passed it anyway. Now it heads to the full Natural Resources and Environment Committee for review, probably next week. 

Urgent indeed.

The second piece of legislation that got Iowa's parks and conservation world in a tizzy was sort of at the other end of the spectrum. A bill came out in the senate on January 27th, then titled SSB3074 (since renamed SF2206). This was a broad tax reform bill which, among many tax changes, would have increased the state sales tax thereby triggering the constitutionally mandated funding of the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund. Urgently, we were encouraged to digest the 118-page bill and voice our support. This one took until the 31st before making it into a subcommittee meeting, which was weakly attended (hard to rally support FOR something, much easier to rally outcry AGAINST something). It passed out of subcommittee, then out of the full Ways and Means Committee a few days later. 

Cool, sort of. 

I should note there are other tax reform bills in the House and from the Governor as well, neither of which have a sales tax increase included in their reforms. So it makes sense to get excited about this senate version.

But here's where things get sticky. The Senate bill that would fund the Trust also included, among many other things, a state takeover of local option sales taxes (LOST) which is certainly concerning for the 80-plus percent of communities across Iowa that have such a tax in place. The state hasn't exactly proven itself reliable (or by extension, trustworthy) at backfilling revenues it's taken from counties and cities in the past. 

Admittedly, I did not read all 118 pages. It lost me at the LOST takeover. I did, however, contact my legislators and encouraged them, as I have so many times before, to include funding the Trust in any tax reform bill that passes this year. I recognize this may be our best (and possibly last for a while) chance to get $220-ish million flowing to parks and conservation in this state. 

We'll see what happens. I expect more urgent calls to action in the coming days and weeks. 

I think it's worth noting here that the two aforementioned bills, while seemingly opposed to each other, are related. Or at least one likely precipitated the other. And we saw something similar happen in 2019. It seems that whenever it looks like funding the Trust is a viable legislative action, a certain powerful faction steps in and starts ramrodding legislation that would hog tie (pun intended) some of the most impactful aspects of the very Trust that the vast majority of Iowans created and still currently support. 


Farm Bureau's own Call to Action encouraging members to oppose "Iowa's Land Acquisition Tax Plan." The links take you to a submittable form pre-filled with their messaging here.

For those of us out here in rational-land who lack the resources to fund campaigns or write our own legislation, all we can do is stay diligent, stay engaged, and communicate with those that we have no choice but to trust to represent our interests, as poorly as they may be inclined to do so. 

I'll end with some links to help you out with that. 

Find your legislator

Learn more about the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust Fund, or read my past blog posts on the topic.

Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation's Action Alert with submittable form (INHF is a key player in conservation policy in this state).

And finally, some hashtags, for whatever they're worth...

#publicland #publiclandowner #IWiLL #FundTheTrust