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Vote Yes for Minnesota' effort faces hurdles

The challenge facing supporters of a referendum that would provide close to $300 million to support Minnesota wildlife, lakes, parks and the arts is combating apathy.

That was evident during a Tuesday night town hall meeting at the Detroit Lakes American Legion sponsored by Vote Yes for Minnesota.

Despite the low turnout, Sportsmen for Change Executive Director Garry Leaf said that the proposed three-eights of a cent sales tax increase that would fund the programs in the amendment is important to maintaining a good quality of life that Minnesotan's are used to.

"It's about values," he said, pointing out that Minnesota put the 10,000 Lakes slogan on the back of the new state quarter for a reason.

"We're a real outdoors recreation state," Leaf added.

He said that Minnesota is first in the nation in the number of boats per capita and fourth overall.

That enthusiasm for the outdoors provides 55,000 jobs and puts $5.8 billion into the local economy, according to Leaf.

Leaf said that existing efforts don't provide enough money, pointing out that lottery revenues -- about 12 cents out every dollar spent --are a fraction of what's needed.

"It's not targeted and not nearly enough," Leaf said.

Part of what's motivating Vote Yes for Minnesota to support a sales tax increase now than wait out the economic downturn is that any initiative to clean up lakes and wildlife habitats do not get cheaper as time goes on.

"This is our chance to do something different," said Henry Van Offelen, a natural resource scientist for the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy.

Part of the referendum's appeal, Leaf said was that a citizens' council will make recommendations on how to spend money dedicated to wildlife.

The Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council would be composed of eight citizens and four state legislators that can make recommendations to the state legislature.

On top of that, a grant program called Conservation Partners would disperse matching grants to local sportsman clubs for wildlife habitat programs across the state.

Local sportsman Tom Augustin said he didn't know much about the proposal coming in, but is on board now -- taking home a few signs to put in his yard.

"It's always been a strong interest of mine," he said of why he's backing the amendment.