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Great Lakes Article:

Conservationists want bottled-water tax
By Seth Slabaugh
The Star Press

INDIANAPOLIS - Soil and water conservationists lobbied legislators this week for a sales tax on bottled water and packaged ice to fund their Clean Water Indiana program.

"Indiana spends the least amount on soil and water conservation compared to neighboring states," state Sen. Robert Meeks, R-LaGrange, said at a Tuesday conference. "Indiana's counties and state government spend about $7.2 million a year versus the Midwest average of $21.4 million."

Meeks added, "Indiana needs to do better, particularly if we are to take advantage of federal programs like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program [CREP], which requires a state match."

CREP pays farmers to retire environmentally sensitive land, restore widlife habitat and re-forest the edges of rivers, lakes and streams to protect them from soil and pesticide runoff.

During their annual conference, members of the Indiana Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts invite legislators to a breakfast where they lobby them for funding.

The Legislature created Clean Water Indiana in 1999, but the only time it received any money was $1 million in 2001 from lottery and riverboat revenue.

State Rep. William Friend, R-Macy, last year proposed a tax on bottled water and an increase in landfill tipping fees to fund Clean Water Indiana programs like CREP. Neither succeeded.

This year, Friend plans to introduce a bill to bring back the 6-percent sales tax on bottled water and packaged ice, which would generate an estimated $6 million a year for soil and water conservation.

Just last year, the Legislature eliminated the sales tax on those products. That change took effect on Jan. 1 of this year.

Lt. Gov. Kathy Davis spoke at the breakfast in support of more money for soil and water conservation.

"Protecting our environment is so critically important to the future success and long-term competitiveness of the state of Indiana," Davis said.

Scott King, the mayor of Gary, another breakfast speaker, said, "The quality of water substantially increases the quality of life for all of us. Improved quality of life is a direct, relevant, positive factor for economic growth and economic redevelopment."

Gary is bordered by 11 miles of Lake Michigan.

Representatives of hunters, farmers, bass fishermen, lake managers, water companies, and other groups attended the breakfast to show their support.

So far, Indiana has committed only $120,000 for CREP.

By comparison, Illinois has earmarked $60 million, Kentucky $22 million, Michigan $35 million, Minnesota $60 million, Ohio $14.3 million, and Wisconsin $43 million for CREP. That will leverage from $86 million to $262 million in federal CREP spending in each of those states.

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