Outdoors, arts amendment backers declare victory
ST. PAUL - Supporters of a proposal to raise taxes to fund outdoors and arts programs celebrated victory early this morning.
With most voted counted, 55.7 percent of Minnesota's voters had supported a constitutional amendment to raise the state sales tax 0.375 percent to fund outdoors and arts programs.
Amendment supporter Steve Morse said Minnesotans sent a message that even in tough economic times, they "protect and value their natural resources."
"I think it just underscores how passionately Minnesotans feel about Minnesota," Morse said. "They don't want us to become a northern Mississippi."
Counting was complicated because ballots with no vote on the issue would be counted as votes against the measure. Morse said some discrepancies were reported in southern Minnesota.
The proposal faced several types of opposition, including from those who did not think that amending the constitution was the proper way to fund programs. The ballot measure asked for the tax to remain in force for 25 years. The only way to change it would be to amend the constitution again.
Another objection was that raising taxes is not needed to support outdoors and arts programs.
Many wondered whether the bad economic times in America would hurt the ballot measure. That did work against supporters, Morse said, but in the end voters decided to no longer put off increased investments.
The amendment was designed to produce funding for areas that supporters said seldom receive adequate money from the Legislature. Supporters said it would produce more than $273 million a year for conservation, parks, water and arts programs.
Much of supporters' emphasis was on projects to clean lakes and streams. Of those studied, about 40 percent of the state's rivers and lakes are polluted.
Then-Sen. Bob Lessard of International Falls launched a constitutional amendment effort to improve hunting and fishing opportunities 10 years ago. As leverage to gain votes, supporters have enlarged the plan to include money for clean water, enhanced prairies and forests, better fish and game habitat, parks, trails, arts and history programs - and now propose to increase taxes instead of taking funds out of existing taxes as was in the original Lessard plan.
"The people in Minnesota want lakes that are fishable, fish that they can eat if they catch them and every citizen in this state needs safe, clean drinking water," sportsman Dave Zentner of Duluth said.
Added arts advocate Larry Redmond: "It's time to take care of this right now."
But opponents had a rejoinder: "It comes down to this is bad constitutional law, this is bad legislative law and this is bad tax policy," former Republican lawmaker Linda Runbeck said.
State Capitol reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.