Arts and outdoors measure passesST. PAUL — Minnesota voters take control of a decade-old proposal to send a portion of state sales tax to outdoors, environment and arts programs now that Minnesota legislators approved it.
By: Don Davis, The Republican Eagle
ST. PAUL — Minnesota voters take control of a decade-old proposal to send a portion of state sales tax to outdoors, environment and arts programs now that Minnesota legislators approved it.
After 10 years of failures, lawmakers Thursday easily passed a constitutional amendment to increase sales taxes 0.375 percent to be spent on a range of outdoor programs — improving wetlands, cleaning the state’s water, funding parks and trails and other things — and arts and history programs.
It was a day many Minnesotans waited to see for a long time, though supporters of the amendment know the work is not yet done.
That will mean mustering public support on the way to November ballots, and it’s a cause the Red Wing Sheldon Theatre’s top official is eager to take up. Executive Director Sean Dowse called Thursday’s legislative approval the “first and greatest step” yet for the measure.
“I think it’s good for both the natural and cultural environment of Minnesota,” he said. “It’s going to really protect these resources that we count on.
The proposal bypasses the governor and goes directly to voters in the Nov. 4 general election.
The House approved the measure 85-46, followed by the Senate, 46-17.
The votes culminate an effort that began more than 10 years ago by then-Sen. Bob Lessard as a way to keep funds flowing to outdoors programs. As years went by, it became obvious that the idea lacked support from urban lawmakers, so the arts provision was included.
House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, said that $244 million would be produced by the amendment in 2010, and it should rise slightly after that.
The biggest complaint about the amendment is that it dedicates funding via the constitution. Opponents want the Legislature make funding decisions year to year.
“Are we so hungry for new revenue ... that we are willing to compromise our core beliefs on fair taxation?” Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, asked. “I’m just not willing to do that today.”
Bakk, Senate Taxes Committee chairman, said sales tax increases hurt the poor more than others.
However, Sertich said, dedicating funding via the constitution is the last chance to making sure funding for important needs is guaranteed.
The amendment, if approved by voters Nov. 4, would increase the sales tax for 25 years before it expires.
Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said he supports items in the amendment, such as clean water. But, he added, changing the constitution is the wrong way to handle it. “I’m willing to raise taxes to do it,” he said.
Rep. Sandy Wollschlager, DFL-Cannon Falls, decided to brighten the day for the bill’s two sponsors, Sertich and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis. Before the Valentine’s Day debate, she gave both rose boutonnieres.
Sertich wore his throughout the day, but it was nowhere to be seen on Pogemiller’s suit.
“This can be a really stressful place,” she said, adding that giving roses helps keep things light.
R-E Staff Writer Mike Longaecker contributed to this story.