Outdoors fans glad amendment passed

Published 9:14 am Monday, November 10, 2008

A state constitutional amendment to bolster funding for the outdoors was warmly received by Minnesotans but also by residents in Freeborn County, where 57 percent voted in favor of it.

The amendment will add three-eighths of 1 percent to the state sales tax and will bring revenue for the outdoors and the arts in Minnesota. A dedicated funding stream is something hunters and anglers have been seeking from the state Legislature for the past decade, only to be put on hold each session. In the last session, legislators decided to let the voters decide.

Albert Lea Ward 5 councilor-elect Larry Anderson, president of the Fountain Lake Sportsman’s Club, voted for the amendment.

Email newsletter signup

“Hopefully the goal is going to be: Leave this world a little better than we came into it,” he said.

Anderson said he likes that it is a dedicated funding stream not subject to the fiscal needs of a state agency. He also likes that a citizen panel will oversee the funding decisions.

He said too often lawmakers think of northern Minnesota when they think of tourism funding but he feels southern Minnesota offers many appealing amenities that deserve funding, too.

“They don’t always realize the value. Look at Albert Lea Lake. It is the first lake people coming to Minnesota see,” he said.

Carol Bertelson, former president of the Albert Lea Audubon Society, voted for it via absentee ballot on her family’s farm in Dauphin, Pa., near the Appalachian Trail. She resides in Albert Lea but grew up in Pennsylvania.

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to dedicate funding to protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, steams, and groundwater by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eighths of 1 percent on taxable sales until the year 2034?

She said she is concerned over the loss of natural areas in Minnesota over the last 10 years as many treasured landscapes and habitats have been turned into residential developments for second homes. She many of the homes were built for prestige and to impress clients, rather than enjoying the outdoors and spending time with their families in cozy cabins.

“I think we need to continue to protect our natural resources for our future and for our children’s sake,” she said.

Bertelson added that the funding for arts will be good for future generations, too.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will be divided four ways: 33 percent to outdoors, 33 percent to clean water, 19.75 percent to cultural heritage and 14.25 percent to parks and trails. The cultural heritage portion goes to art centers, historical museums, community theaters and similar groups.

The extra sales tax begins July 1, 2009, and continues until 2034. It is estimated to raise about $300 million a year.

The state sales tax in Minnesota right now is 6.5 percent. That means 6 1/2 cents on every dollar made in taxable sales in Minnesota goes to the state.

Albert Lea has a 0.5 percent local-option sales tax. A half cent on every dollar made on taxable sales in the city goes to the Shell Rock River Watershed District.

So presently for taxable purchases made in Albert Lea, people pay 7 cents for every dollar, and for purchases made outside the city limits, it remains 6 1/2 cents.

As a result of the constitutional amendment that passed Tuesday, all that changes on July 1. Sales taxes increase by three-eighths of 1 percent. In Albert Lea, consumers will pay 7 3/8 cents on every dollar of taxable sales. Outside the city, they will pay 6 7/8 cents.

Bill Bryson, an Alden farmer who is the former chairman of the Minnesota Council of State Parks, said he is optimistic the new funding stream will improve waters and recreation in Minnesota. However, he voted against the amendment.

“I don’t think we should frivolously clutter up our constitution with more amendments,” he said.

The Minnesota Constitution has been amended more than 100 times since 1858.

Freeborn County results

Yes 9,516 57.15

No 7,136 42.85

Total 16,652

Over votes 4 0.02

Under votes (blanks) 699 4.03

— Freeborn County Auditor-Treasurer’s Office

Minnesota results

Yes 1,635,023 56.01

No 1,141,534 39.10

Estimated blanks 142,610 0.05

Estimated total voters 2,919,167

— Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office

Bryson said because he is a parks advocate he has mixed feelings but is glad the amendment has a 25-year sunset provision.

“I think we are taking things away from the Legislature that should be left with the Legislature,” he said. “But it may turn out to be a godsend.”

He said he also has concerns about Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s cutting of local government aid, which results in increases in property taxes. Now the additional sales tax will hurt folks, too, he said.

Bryson said he supports the “fish, hook and bullet crowd” but he fears they “will monopolize the revenue.” He said he hopes the funding is done in an equitable manner.

Al Batt, a past president of the Albert Lea Audubon Society and Tribune wildlife columnist, voted for the amendment. He said Minnesota is known around the world for its lakes and outdoors beauty. He said it is important to maintain it and pass it on to future generations.

He agreed that elected officials should have done something, but they didn’t, so the voters had to. He said now elected officials can witness the statewide support for the outdoors.

“Drastic times take drastic actions,” he said.

Missouri has a sales tax that funds outdoors projects, and Batt said that state has had great success with it.

“If Missouri can do it, I don’t know why Minnesota can’t,” Batt said.

Shell Rock River Watershed District board member Clay Petersen voted against the amendment.

“We elected the legislators to make the right choice. I’m not willing to let them off the hook,” he said.

Albert Lea artist Susanne Crane voted for the amendment “as someone who appreciates the environment and the need to clean up the lakes in Minnesota. I think it will really be good for the arts, too.”

About Tim Engstrom

Tim Engstrom is the editor of the Albert Lea Tribune. He resides in Albert Lea with his wife, two sons and dog.

email author More by Tim