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Voters to decide Tuesday if outdoors, arts worth sales tax increase

Gary Robinson of New York Mills paddles the Otter Tail River during a relaxing kayak float from Perham to the St. Lawrence Road bridge earlier this fall. Robinson, who works for MeritCare in NY Mills and Perham, often spends time on the Otter Tail, both kayaking and fishing. Voters will decide Nov. 4 on the Clean Water, Land and Legacy constitutional amendment, which would increase the state sales tax by one-third of one percent.

Kevin Cederstrom

Voters will be asked Nov. 4 if they want to support a proposed state constitutional amendment to dedicate funding for wildlife conservation. If approved, the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment would raise $270 million annually for 25 years. The cost to taxpayers is the amendment would increase the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent.

Here's what Minnesotans will see on the ballot Nov. 4:

Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage, and Natural Areas

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, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eighths of one percent on taxable sales until the year 2034?

A YES vote supports the amendment. A NO vote does not support the amendment. Failure to vote on a constitutional amendment, will have the same effect as voting no for the amendment.

Where would the money go?

Thirty-three percent would be used to develop and improve fish and wildlife habitat. Habitat supporting game and non-game wildlife and fish would be enhanced and conserved. A citizens-legislative council made up of eight citizens and four legislators would oversee the spending. This council would be established to ensure the money is spent as intended.

Thirty-three percent would clean up Minnesota's lakes and rivers. Polluted rivers and lakes would be targeted, as would drinking and waste water treatment.

Arts and cultural projects would get 19.75 percent. The State Arts board likely would distribute much of the funds, as it does now with state allocated arts money.

Parks and trails would get 14.25 percent. Biking and hiking trails, along with city, county, regional and state parks would benefit.

Vote Yes for Minnesota campaign organizers say lawmakers have not provided adequate money for efforts to clean the state's water or for other outdoors-related programs. Opponents of the amendment don't like the idea of dedicated funding and paint the amendment as a slush fund for special interests, and an unjustified burden on taxpayers. Others opposed to the amendment simply don't want to see yet another tax increase. Rod Grams, Chairman of the No Constitutional Tax Increase Campaign, writes: "Another $60 per year in taxes may not sound like much, but when you add it on top of higher gas taxes, license taxes, property taxes, ballpark taxes, and transit taxes, it's an additional tax burden Minnesotans don't need."

Supporters claim 40 percent of the state's lakes and rivers are contaminated, communities still have sewer problems and the state may not be meeting wetland preservation requirements.

The state Revenue Department estimates the tax increase would bring in $11 billion during the amendment's 25-year life. The average Minnesota household would pay about $5 more per month in sales tax if the amendment passes.