There are many things we don't like about passing a state constitutional amendment to levy a tax, but the programs that will benefit from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment that is on the Nov. 4 ballot make us encourage voters to vote "yes."
The amendment, if approved by the voters, will raise the state's sales tax by 3/8ths of one percent for 25 years. Around $300 million a year is expected to be generated over the tax's 25-year lifespan. A third of the monies raised will be deposited in an outdoor heritage fund and will be spent only to protect and restore wetland, prairie and forest habitat. Another third will go to a clean water fund to protect drinking water, groundwater and the state's many lakes, rivers and streams. Twenty percent of the remaining receipts will go toward arts and heritage preservation, with the remainder directed to parks and trails.
These are all worthy causes, but causes that lack state funding. Now, there is no reason people who support these causes can't bug their legislators until they pass regular tax measures to fund them. That's the way most business is done in the state.
But for many, many years, legislators have been loathe to raise taxes, even for worthwhile issues. Look at transportation. It took 20 years of underfunded transportation projects before the state legislature managed a five cent-per-gallon gasoline tax increase last session, and the howls from the Republican caucus and Gov. Pawlenty were deafening.
Even if the legislature did pass a legacy-style package, there is no guarantee the money would be used for its original purpose. Again, look at transportation. The state's motor vehicle excise tax, originally intended to fund highway projects, was redirected back in the Quie administration to the general fund to help meet big budget deficits. The revenue remained in the general fund for years.
So, if Minnesotans truly want to raise funding for the environment and the arts, it will have to be through an amendment. We lack the petition and referendum system of states like California, which is probably just as well.
So, if you support the environment and the arts, vote Yes on the amendment on Nov. 4. Remember, under state amendment rules, a non-vote on the amendment counts as a no vote.