WATERWORKS Outdoor Column by Gordon Prickett, from
The Aitkin Independent Age, 11/2/2011.
Back in July 2009 Minnesota businesses began collecting an extra 3/8% sales tax on those items that are subject to this tax. In much of the state it was pegged at 6½% before the 25-year constitutional amendment went into effect.
When this amendment received a “yes” vote in the November 2008 general election, it surprised a lot of Minnesotans. A very savvy group of state legislators, from both political parties, had assembled a coalition consisting of hunters and fishermen, environmentalists, outdoor camping enthusiasts, and patrons of the arts. The politicians then drafted a bill to send a “Legacy Amendment” directly to the voters. This procedure effectively bypassed Governor Tim Pawlenty, who had taken a “No tax increase” pledge when he battled for the nomination of his party in the 2002 gubernatorial campaign.
The receipts from this new sales tax fall into four separate pots of money, to be parceled out by four different entities every year, and subject to approval by the state legislature. The four new funds are Clean Water, Outdoor Heritage, Arts and Cultural Heritage, and Parks and Trails. In this column I am looking closely at how the clean water money is spent.
CLEAN WATER SHARE OF THE LEGACY TAX
With tens of millions of new sales tax dollars coming in every year, from 2009 through 2034, this is the breakdown among the four causes:
clean water fund 33%
outdoor heritage fund 33%
arts and cultural heritage fund 19.75%
parks and trails fund (of regional & statewide significance) 14.25%
This is new dedicated money, beyond what the legislature and the governor budget in each legislative session. It protects the “essentials” that its supporters consider will maintain Minnesota’s excellent quality of life.
The clean water money is directed to “protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams and protect groundwater.” A critical balance is being struck across the state, between restoration of polluted and contaminated waters, protection of waters currently in good shape, and enhancement of waters under threat, but still “pretty clean.”
The state agencies charged with administering the clean water fund are mainly the Pollution Control Agency (MPCA), the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Board of Soil and Water Resources (BWSR). However, the Department of Health has responsibility for water wells and aquifers, and the Department of Agriculture tests well water and monitors runoff from pastures, feedlots, and soil erosion.
These state agencies seek grant requests for clean water projects from local units of government and from engaged community groups. Projects are underway in this region to expand water testing, gather available lake quality data into assessment reports, and conduct shore restoration planting. The priorities established by updated county water plans are guiding the grant awards and the execution of clean water projects.
The Aitkin County Lakes And Rivers Association (ACLARA) will focus on how member associations can participate and benefit from new clean water funding in years to come.