Recent editorials published in Iowa newspapers

Monday , July 02, 2018 - 8:01 AM

By The Associated Press

Des Moines Register. June 28, 2018

Iowa must clean up its mess in the Gulf. Current funding, voluntary efforts aren’t enough.

Iowa Natural Resources Trust offers best solution to reduce farm runoff that is poisoning the Gulf.

If it weren’t for Iowa, the Gulf of Mexico would have less fish-killing fertilizer flowing into it from the Mississippi and Missouri rivers.

That’s one of the most discouraging conclusions from a University of Iowa study, as reported recently by the Register. Despite hundreds of millions of dollars that Iowa has poured into water-quality initiatives over the past two decades, the amount of nitrates our state contributes to the Gulf dead zone has increased by nearly 50 percent, the report states.

How does this happen? It’s easy to see these days, as Iowans around the state are again experiencing summertime flooding. High, fast, dirty-brown water is rushing down the Raccoon and Des Moines rivers and their tributaries, carrying away our rich Iowa topsoil, its naturally occurring nutrients and all the fertilizers, pesticides and manure we apply to it.

Talk about flushing our money merrily down the stream.

It’s embarrassing. Worse, it’s shameful. Iowa now contributes about 40 percent of the excess nutrients that feed the dead zone, an oxygen-starved area in the Gulf where no marine life can survive. The barren area is forecast to exceed the size of Connecticut this year. We’ve long known that Iowa was a major part of the problem; now we are the problem.

Iowa Agriculture Secretary Mike Naig, in a guest column, cast blame on extreme weather for fluctuations in nitrate levels that could make water monitoring unreliable at times. “If we measure the rivers — especially now when we’re looking at widespread flooding — we see weather effects, rather than things farmers, landowners or cities can control,” he wrote. “We can’t control the volatile weather we’re experiencing right now, but we can mitigate impacts to the landscape by the types and number of conservation practices implemented.”

We can’t control the weather, although it seems disingenuous to ignore that the effects of climate change are part of the problem, and Iowa should be doing its share to address that. But the fact remains that other states were also subject to extreme weather but managed to reduce their nitrate levels flowing into the Gulf. The study in particular cites Indiana, where farmers are ahead of Iowa in embracing the use of cover crops, which help hold nitrates in the soil.

The study underscores that Iowa’s water-quality initiative approved this year, mainly for for voluntary water and soil conservation projects, seems like spitting into the ocean. Senate File 512, signed by Gov. Kim Reynolds, provides $282 million over a dozen years for Iowa’s Nutrient Reduction Strategy. That’s a voluntary program to help farmers pay for cover crops, buffer strips and other projects aimed at water and soil conservation. It’s a good program, but it’s not going to be enough.

The Nutrient Reduction Strategy has identified a $3 billion to $6 billion problem. Former Gov. Terry Branstad recognized the scale of funding needed, proposing to raise $4.6 billion by diverting school infrastructure funds, which turned out to be politically unpopular on both sides of the aisle.

What’s so frustrating is that Iowa has had a solution sitting right in front of us for the better part of a decade, but our elected officials have lacked the political courage to act.

Iowa voters in 2010 approved a constitutional amendment creating the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust fund. In the years since, support has only grown for funding the trust with a three-eighths penny sales tax increase. Earlier this year, two-thirds of Iowans said in the Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll that they supported raising the sales tax a full penny to fund the trust as well as expand mental health programs.

Getting money flowing to the trust fund would generate new revenue, which Iowa needs. That revenue would be constitutionally protected to use exclusively for the outdoors. State law requires money be used for specific endeavors, including wildlife habitat restoration, trails, local conservation and water quality. Especially water quality. Up to 60 percent of the estimated $150 million to $180 million generated annually by the sales tax could go toward improving, protecting and restoring waterways, according to a report from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.

Iowa would finally be able to adequately fund water protection projects, including buffer strips, permanent vegetation cover, bank stabilization and dredging.

In Missouri, residents have repeatedly approved a sales tax dedicated to parks, soils and water. The money has helped the state prevent more than 175 million tons of soil from eroding into waterways. It funds technical and financial assistance for landowners to construct terraces, grassed waterways, ponds and implemented practices specifically designed to improve water quality.

Had the Iowa Legislature acted back in 2011 to fund the trust, we would by now have invested the nearly $1 billion into preserving our land and water. But the politicians listened to the Farm Bureau and other interest groups instead of to their constituents.

These same politicians may want to tell you this issue is now settled — Senate File 512 is signed and it needs time to work. Don’t listen to them. This year’s election is a referendum on many “settled” issues: privatized Medicaid, the future of education, tax policy and many other issues. The future of our environment, the safety of our water and Iowa’s contribution to the health of the planet should rank right up there with voters’ top priorities.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Fred Hubbell has embraced funding the Natural Resources and Outdoor Recreation Trust. Gov. Kim Reynolds has not, but she has publicly stated that this year’s legislation was just a starting point. Voters also should be asking for positions on watershed management and flood mitigation.

Our congressional delegation also has a role to play in forming federal farm policy in a way that supports conservation and multi-crop rotation and works to reduce our country’s contribution to global climate change.

Iowa has had spent decades ignoring the fact that we’re poisoning the ocean. It’s past time to own the blame and take responsibility for cleaning up our mess.

Dubuque Telegraph Herald. June, 28, 2018

Grant funding is city’s approval of mural expansion

In the year or two since they started appearing on the sides of several downtown Dubuque buildings, the massive murals have sparked lots of debate and discussion. Many folks love them, some hate them and seemingly only a few others put themselves in between.

As we commented here last September, our opinion is that the murals are a striking and positive addition. They bring unique visuals, color and panache to the downtown area.

At that time, we also questioned whether the colorful murals might be better located in areas besides — or in addition to — downtown area. We specified farther north. And that’s what is happening this time around, just as public and private entities are turning their attention to the Central Avenue corridor and the “True North” initiative. Two more murals will be completed by the end of today — one north and one south of downtown.

The expansion of the mural program, an initiative of Voices Productions, headed by artist Gene Tully, Sam Mulgrew and Janice Roerig-Blong, prompted some discussion the other day by the Dubuque City Council, which OK’d an $8,000 grant toward murals.

Kate Larson, completing her first half-year on the council, raised a concern that the community does not have enough say-so regarding the murals.

“I really feel that neighbors and community members should be able to know what is being planned,” she said. “Right now, there’s really no set of standards for these projects.”

She also questioned about what happens years from now, when today’s vivid paint, has faded.

The council has already demonstrated its concern over its inability to control freedom of speech through its banners-on-light-poles program. It should not cross another line by trying to monitor and regulate what property owners allow to be painted on the sides of their buildings.

City officials should exercise as much say-so over the murals as the public enjoys on other art endeavors, including, we note, selections for the city-sponsored Art on the River sculptures. If council members want to exercise control over the murals, denying grant money should be as far as it goes.

Granted, not everyone in town is in love with the murals. Not everyone in town has been in love with other decisions — made by the public and the private sectors — regarding the arts. That’s how it goes.

But that is the beauty of art: It is, as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder.

Fort Dodge Messenger. June 29, 2018

A worthy recognition

Park renaming honors H.C. Meriwether

This week what had long been called Mini Park in the Pleasant Valley neighborhood got a new name. At a ribbon-cutting and dedication ceremony on Tuesday, it was christened H.C. Meriwether Park. The new name honors of one of the first African-American Fort Dodgers to be a business owner in our town.

The park is on 10th Avenue Southwest between Eighth Street and Ninth Street.

This worthy recognition of one of the many individuals who have helped build Fort Dodge into thriving community had widespread support. It was championed by the Pleasant Valley Awareness Group as well numerous individuals. The park has long been supported actively by the H.C. Meriwether Masonic Lodge, which currently sponsors the park through the city’s adopt-a-park program.

The Messenger applauds this renaming. It’s important to find ways to recall and recognize the contributions community members have made in our city’s long history. Singling out H.C. Meriwether for this honor is an excellent choice.

Quad City times. June 27, 2018

Making a martyr out of Art Tate

Iowa might rue the day it denied Art Tate his day in court.

State regulators succeeded in silencing the Davenport Community School District superintendent after Administrative Law Judge David Lindgren issued a summary judgment in the state’s favor, rendering moot Tate’s hearing scheduled for Monday. Tate violated Iowa ethics laws when he approved spending rainy day funds to boost per-pupil spending to levels equal to neighboring, wealthier districts, Lindgren ruled on the paperwork alone.

Tate did, indeed, violate state law. That was never in question. So, too, did Davenport School Board, which backed his budgetary maneuver. All involved knew the potential consequences.

But the fact that Tate is now guilty of “ethics violations” is flat-out laughable. What’s illegal is not always mutually inclusive with what’s ethical. Any claim to the contrary amounts to a sophomoric view of legal history.

There’s nothing ethical about pouring more funding into some school districts over others. There’s nothing ethical about using district-level funding equations as bargaining chips, which is what Iowa Legislature did decades ago. There’s nothing ethical about targeting the one superintendent who finally had enough of his students being branded second class.

Iowa’s GOP-dominated Legislature — particularly the Senate — admitted as much earlier this year. Lawmakers approved a one-year fix that equalized the funding equations that have cost Davenport’s district about $2 million a year. Iowa Farm Bureau’s minions in the House gutted the bill. The original — drafted in 2017 by state Sen. Roby Smith, R-Davenport — would have fully fixed this farce over a decade. But even the weak sauce draft was better than nothing.

Gov. Kim Reynolds rolled into town and made a big show of the bill signing. Iowa’s Republican governor refused to pledge future support when prodded by Smith and others from the podium, mind you. No, this was political theater tailor-made for an election year.

Pictures were taken. Applause rang out. Strange jazz played overhead. Everyone smiled.

Tate was notably absent from the dog-and-pony show.

And that’s because the bill’s only real power came from its role as an admission that, for four decades, Iowa’s school funding mechanism was a breeding ground for inequity. It acknowledged the vicious cycle caused by such an approach, one that pumped steroids into white flight. But, unlike Smith’s unsuccessful crusade in 2017, the bill that passed the House did not retroactively grant Tate a reprieve.

It hung him out to dry. And Reynolds couldn’t be bothered to call off the dogs. At the very least, Tate should have been permitted to make his case in open court.

But Tate would have put Iowa on trial for its prolonged failure to fix the structural inequity baked into its school funding model. Iowa education officials couldn’t suffer that. So, through a legal maneuver, they silenced Davenport’s superintendent.

On paper, Tate’s guilty and Iowa’s free and clear.

Tate’s now left to negotiate his fate with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office. It could end his career, a fact Tate knew from the outset — a reality for which he recently seemed to be preparing when he announced his retirement.

Make no mistake, there are no shortage of issues in Davenport Community School District under Tate’s watch. The disproportionate punishments doled out to black students is of particular note. But, on the issue of school funding equity, Art Tate has been the voice calling for ethical, just treatment of all Iowa’s public school students. He’s lambasted a system that picks winners and losers based on some outdated scheme cooked up decades ago. He’s faced the state’s most influential special interest, which bested him only thanks to cash and political sway.

The state piled more injustice atop an already shameful system by denying Tate his day in court. In so doing, it just might have made a martyr out of Tate, especially if Tate is driven from his post. And that ghost would prove difficult to exorcise until all of Iowa’s students are considered of equal value.

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