Cleaner water: tangible benefit of stimulus and bonding bills

Water quality has long been one of Iowa’s biggest environmental problems. Fortunately, the state plans to spend some $455 million cleaning up Iowa rivers and lakes, according to an excellent piece by Perry Beeman in the May 10 edition of the Des Moines Register:

After decades of struggling to address serious pollution problems, the state now has an unprecedented pool of state and federal money to solve some of its worst water-quality problems, said Charles Corell, the water chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

One of the biggest impacts: improved sewage treatment and septic systems in the 500 towns and rural subdivisions that don’t have any. […]

Much of the new money for water quality was approved last month by the Iowa Legislature as part of a huge bond package pushed by Gov. Chet Culver. Other money was awarded as part of flood recovery efforts.

Money for lake restorations – including popular spots like Clear Lake in Cerro Gordo County and Carter Lake in Pottawattamie County – will more than quadruple. Many predict the much larger pool will fuel recreation opportunities and improve local economies. […]

“You essentially have untreated or under-treated sewage getting into waterways,” said Corell, who visited Truesdale and Greenville on Thursday to discuss proposed sewer projects. “And it’s all the time, not just when it rains.”

After the jump I have posted details Beeman compiled about the new money that will be used to improve water quality in Iowa. A large sum came from the federal economic stimulus bill, which didn’t get a single Republican vote in the House of Representatives. Another major source is the I-JOBS bonding initiative, which passed the Iowa House and Senate last month with no Republican votes.

Republicans keep bashing the federal stimulus spending and the state-level borrowing, as if no Iowans will benefit from these policies (aside from the few thousand people who will work on the projects). One typical example was the e-mail blast Iowa Senate Republican leader Paul McKinley sent out last week. You won’t find it on the comically awful Iowa Senate Republicans website, which appears not to have been updated since April 16. However, I receive “McKinley’s Memos” via e-mail, and I’ve posted the May 15 edition after the jump to give you a flavor of current Republican ideology.

I addressed most of the points McKinley raises in this post. The Party of No’s indiscriminate stance against borrowing fails to recognize that when interest rates are relatively low, bonding to pay for worthwhile projects is a wise investment. It may be hard to assign a dollar value to reducing water pollution in Iowa, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important for human health, biodiversity and local economies.

Hundreds of thousands of Iowans will benefit from the clean water projects discussed in Beeman’s article. If Republicans had their way, the sewer improvements and lake cleanups wouldn’t happen for years, if ever.

Please share your own thoughts about penny-wise and pound-foolish conservative dogma in this thread.

Sidebar to Perry Beeman’s article in the May 10 edition of the Des Moines Register:

Here is a rundown of some of the major sources of the new money available for unprecedented work on Iowa rivers, lakes and sewage-treatment facilities:

• $260 million from the state’s revolving loan program for sewage projects.

• $55 million in new grants for sewage treatment plants, which will buy down some of the loans.

• $53 million from federal stimulus bill.

• $15.8 million for soil conservation, watershed improvement and other farm programs that help water quality.

• $13.5 million for wetlands and other water-quality restoration projects.

• $12.8 million in state lake restoration money, $10 million more than usual.

• $11.5 million for repair of conservation practices such as levees and terraces.

• $10 million a year, for three years, on river improvements related to tourism and recreation.

• $7 million for soil and water conservation projects through the agriculture department.

• $5 million for local watershed improvement projects and watershed planning through the Watershed Improvement Review Board.

• $3 million for water quality monitoring.

• $2.6 million for watershed protection under agriculture department programs.

• $1.5 million for conservation under Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

• $1.5 million for the Conservation Reserve projects.

• $1.3 million for the new Iowa Flood Center.

• $800,000 for Iowa water trails development and low-head dam inspections

• $500,000 for Carter Lake restoration.

“McKinley’s Memo” from May 15, 2009:

Governor Culver signed into law a series of bonding bills this week that will add nearly $1.7 billion dollars in additional debt to the state’s credit card. This record level of debt accompanies a recently passed state budget crafted by the current majority party in the Legislature that spends more money than any other budget in the 163 year history of the state.

When Governor Culver delivered the annual Condition of the State Address on January 13, he outlined his initial proposal to bond for $700 million dollars. A few weeks later his legislative counterparts, not to be outspent by the governor, rolled out their own debt proposal by adding an additional $50 million to the figure pitched by the governor.

Governor Culver said his proposal would create 30,000 “shovel ready” positions, yet when respected independent economists and experts took a look at his ideas, they found that the governor had substantially inflated and embellished his claims. Instead, these experts said the governor’s plans would likely yield closer to 4,000 temporary positions. In some cases, the governor double and triple counted particular jobs. Governor Culver had missed his stated claim by over 700 percent. What is the best way for politicians to cultivate cynicism and skepticism amongst the citizens they are supposed to be representing? Over promise and then under deliver.

Even then, the governor embarked on a statewide publicity tour trying to explain to the voters of Iowa why spending so much money and adding so much debt would be a good thing to do during these challenging economic times. There are over 80,000 Iowans who are unemployed, yet this proposal does not address job creation at a time when Iowans are concerned about their economic and employment security. Instead of creating sustainable and permanent jobs, this plan would only make temporary government work. Once the projects are complete and the money is spent, those workers are again looking for answers.

Iowans know there is a difference between temporary government created work and sustainable permanent jobs. Knowing that job creation is a top priority for Iowans and understanding that two-thirds of all new jobs created are by small-businesses and private sector employers, Senate Republicans outlined a bold and ambitious jobs creation initiative that would truly grow Iowa and it’s economy – not its government. Unfortunately, since we are currently not in control of the Legislature, the legislation was not even given a hearing – let alone a vote.

Not long after, The Des Moines Register unveiled a new “Iowa Poll” showing that 71 percent of Iowans are against bonding. The citizens of Iowa were presented with two competing debt proposals and an overwhelming majority said they were not interested in requiring the state to make regular payments on hundreds of millions of dollars of principle and interest for literally decades to come. This spend now – pay later mentality may provide the governor and his legislative counterparts with a feeling of immediate gratification but it leaves our children, grandchildren and generations of Iowans to foot the bill later.

In the final days of the 2009 session, the governor and his legislative allies came to an agreement on how much debt they were going to add to the state’s credit cards. Instead of finding a compromise between the two proposed dollar amounts, the final number was nearly $100 million dollars more and totaled approximately $830 million dollars. Yet, the state will actually only be able to spend $750 million dollars of that sum total because of fees and other bonding charges and expenses. Over the decades to come, the actual total cost to taxpayers will be nearly $1.7 billion dollars.

I recognize that government should have a limited and focused role to provide essential services like safe and reliable infrastructure that all Iowans need. However, I also recognize that we owe it to every hardworking Iowa taxpayer to ensure that every dollar is spent wisely and efficiently. Like the vast majority of Iowans, we believe that the best way to pay for important infrastructure projects is to pay for them as money becomes available. Dependable infrastructure is important to Iowa’s economy and to the safety of those who live and visit here.

Beyond the $1.7 billion in new debt built up this year, the governor and current majority party also gave their stamp of approval to the largest budget in the history of Iowa. Even as Iowa families and employers were making difficult financial decisions, the Legislature did not follow their lead and tighten the belt on spending. As a result, they have created nearly a one billion dollar deficit that could continue to get bigger if the economy does not start to pick up the pace. It is important to remember that Iowa did not even have a $1 billion dollar budget until 1976.

Unlike Governor Culver and party members in the Legislature, Senate Republicans understand that you cannot borrow, you cannot tax and you cannot spend your way to prosperity. They have dug a deep fiscal hole for the state and the best way to get out of it is to stop the out-of-control spending and work to grow Iowa’s economy through the creation of private sector jobs.

This time of year is always exciting because our public and private high schools all over the state are graduating their senior classes and those students will go off looking to find a job or obtain more education. This year, those newly graduated seniors will get something extra with their diploma. If those seniors opt to stay in Iowa to find a job and start a family, they will be paying for this new bonding until they are 50 years old and that added spending is just the consequence of one legislative session.

Instead of burdening those high school graduates with decades of debt, we should instead be working together to create opportunities for them and their children to be successful. Senate Republicans know that with the right leadership, principles and priorities, we can build an Iowa that will once again the destination for all of those seeking opportunity and possibility.

As always, I welcome hearing from my constituents and can be reached by phone at  515-281-3560 or by e-mail at

Paul McKinley

Iowa Senator

You need to signin or signup to post a comment.