From WATERWORKS, a column in the June 1, 2011 Aitkin Independent Age
by Gordon Prickett
Minnesota bucked a trend of nationwide anti-tax zeal in the November 2008 election.
We passed the “Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment” to the state constitution, which meant that we actually voted to raise our state sales tax by three-eighths of a percent. By a sizeable margin, the decision was reached that it was time to do a better job for clean water, for wild habitat, parks, trails, and culture.
Two years later, in November 2010, state voters mixed their message to St. Paul, voting in a wealthy governor who wanted a higher tax bracket for the rich, and choosing a legislature that wants less government. The result could shut down state government come July 1.
One of the most interesting sessions at the recent 2011 Lakes and Rivers Conference in St. Cloud was titled “The Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment: Where is the Money Going?” The director of the watchdog group “Conservation Minnesota,” analyzed the first two years of this 25-year amendment, and looked ahead at the next 23 years. There are four funds where this dedicated sales tax goes.
The Clean Water Fund and the Outdoor Heritage (Lessard-Sams) Fund each get 33% of this new money. 19.75% goes to the Arts, History, and Cultural Heritage Fund, while the remaining 14.25% supports Parks and Trails with regional and statewide significance.
The state legislature receives regular reports on how this money is being spent. In fact, during this conference report by Paul Austin, two agency people identified themselves from MPCA and the DNR, as the persons who count the legacy expenditures for the state legislature.
The Arts funding is well documented and has been well publicized locally. In Aitkin we saw Gregory Peck in the classic movie at the Rialto ”To Kill a Mockingbird,” paid by this fund. Recently the library brought the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet to perform in its meeting room with arts fund money. Minnesota authors are currently visiting libraries across the state to meet their readers in arts-funded programs.
Those of us who partner with local and state agencies to clean up and protect our waters have found that the Legacy Amendment is helping. The Clean Water Fund contains new money for assessments and remediation of polluted waters, as well as for additional monitoring and protection that prevents degradation of rivers and lakes. The process of obtaining grants from Outdoor Heritage and Clean Water money can be complicated. Mostly the funds are funneled though local agencies, such as Soil and Water offices and County departments. There is a concern that the current legislative budget cuts will rely on legacy funding to replace natural resource appropriations. With watchdogs like Conservation Minnesota, I am hopeful that this can be prevented.