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Taxing issue: Proposed wildlife measure battles obscurity

Besides voting for a new president and various other officials, Minnesotans have an economic choice to make at the ballot box on Nov. 4.

The Clean Water, Wildlife and Legacy Amendment to the state constitution, if passed, will raise the state sales tax three-eighths of one percent to fund various environmental and cultural programs.

For the average family, that means spending a few more pennies at the grocery store, said Vote Yes for Minnesota supporter and long-time conservationist Dave Zentner.

"This is a chance of a lifetime," Zentner said. "On a $10 purchase, you are going to pay 3 or 4 cents more than you are paying now."

The amendment is a culmination of a 10-year effort to get a plan into place. It can't come soon enough for Zentner as he said that 40 percent of Minnesota's lakes and streams aren't considered fishable or swimmable.

"Minnesota has been slipping away from our heritage and away from our tradition," Zentner said.

Minnesota Deer Hunters Association Executive Director Mark Johnson said the amendment goes a long way to ensure that funding is there to protect Minnesota's natural resources.

"What that means throughout every year for Minnesota is $273 million," Johnson said.

The bill directs the sales tax revenues into four separate funds. A third goes into a clean water fund and another third is set aside for wildlife habitat.

The final third is split between an arts fund, and parks and trails.

In a tough economic climate, Zentner said that the time is now for money to be set aside, because it won't get any cheaper to fix existing issues.

"If we don't do it now and wait for the right time, it will cost much more than 3 to 4 cents," Zentner said.

Convincing voters to support a tax increase now isn't an issue for Zentner. He said that the main concern is getting the word out about the measure.

"What's scary is that somewhere in (the range) of 60 percent or more of men and women in Detroit Lakes haven't heard of it, despite the work we've done." Zentner said. "

He added: "When you talk to people about it, the response is overwhelmingly high."

Zentner said that the measure is different from most other laws on the book in that it doesn't provide a laundry list to follow to ensure environmental standards are followed.

"This is not a regulation that tells people what to do or not to do," he said.

Voters shouldn't be concerned that the amendment is spreading itself too thin by mixing environmental issues with arts funding, Zentner said.

He said that there is a synergy between arts and the environment that will be helped by increased funding.

Arts and parks funding won't be confined just to the Twin Cities area, according to Zentner.

"This money is not going to stay in the seven-county metro area," Zentner said. "Detroit Lakes, Duluth and Worthington are going to see this money and enhance their arts community."

With this vote, Johnson said it's the easy choice to make now.

"If we don't pass it, we still have the problems with natural resources and arts access," Johnson said. "But we don't have a funding source."