Downballot succes: Minnesota's third way

One virtually unnoticed nugget in Tuesday's election was the decision by Minnesota voters to dedicate a 0.375 % sales tax to the arts and outdoors.  The measure will dedicate an estimated $275 million annually to projects such as clean water, wildlife habitat restoration, parks and trails, and arts and cultural programs.

This unlikely coupling of outdoors and arts was the result of more than a decade of attempts to get an outdoors amendment on the Minnesota ballot.  This was a change to the Minnesota Constitution and required that the legislature first pass a bill allowing this amendment onto the ballot, which the citizens then voted on.  Rural legislators had tried for years to get this amendment on the ballot, but had failed repeatedly.  The measure finally passed the legislature after adding arts funding, which brought urban legislators on board as well.

States face constant pressures to spend money on outdoors-related projects and some fund these activities through mechanisms such as lotteries or licensing fees for boaters, hunters, and (ugh) off-roaders.  But this is the most audacious plan that I can remember.  And it certainly flies in the face of what has become the center-right CW in punditry circles.  And, from my perspective, I think outdoors and arts are entirely compatible and offer us a new way to think about the outdoors.

As explained in the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, the money will be apportioned accordingly:


Of the new tax revenue, 33 percent, or about $90 million, will fund outdoors and wildlife habitat projects; another 33 percent will go to clean water programs; 19.75 percent, or $54 million, will be directed to statewide arts and cultural groups; and 14.25 percent, or $39 million, will be used for parks and trails.

After literally decades of hearing that there isn't money for anything other than battleships and bank bailouts, this comes as welcome news.  It is heartening to me that people are willing to think beyond the immediate cost of 38 cents on a $100 purchase.  It also suggests to me that we are not, in fact, a country of stingy, right-wing tightwads.  People understand that to have something nice, you need to pay for it.

Another hopeful consequence of this bill is that it provides enough money that Minnesota could spawn a healthy environmental contracting industry that will set the bar on environmental restoration projects.  These projects require expertise in engineering, hydrology, ecology, and design.  I predict the Minnesota will be the go-to state for these types of projects in the future.

I have concerns about this amendment.  First, do we really need to amend a whole State Constitution to spend money in this way?  Second, sales taxes are extremely regressive, but 0.375 % seems quite bearable by even lower middle class families.  Also, there is a concern that this money will evaporate and be spent on assinine projects like more ATV trails or exhorbitant contracting fees.

But overall, I think this is a good sign.  And it should hearten Democrats that we are dealing with people who can be persuaded by a good idea.  I didn't get a chance to vote on this amendment because I don't live in MN anymore, but it got a "Yes" vote in spirit.

How would you have voted?

Link: http://www.startribune.com/politics/stat e/33946549.html

Tags: Environment, Minnesota, sales tax (all tags)

Comments

4 Comments

Phil Krinkie's head musta exploded.

The Taxpayer's League's basic foundation is that people will never vote for higher taxes, so it must be highly vexing for their spokesweasel, Phil Krinkie, to have taxes raised twice this year in Minnesota, once by the State Senate overriding the veto of his cat's paw tool, Tim Pawlenty, and once by a straight-up vote.

Fact of the matter is that Minnesota rose to be one of the highest-ranked states in the nation on all major metrics while it had high taxes, and has slumped into mediocrity since Tim Pawlenty showed up like a gunslinger to shoot down as much taxation and spending as he could.

I proudly voted for the tax increase; I'm a bicyclist, and the state of our green places and paths is extremely important to me.  My father is a canoer; this money will help the Boundary Waters stay clean and safe as some of the best non-motorized boating in the nation.  I don't think I even need to mention the importance of clean water.

It's honestly not all that strange that they're combining the arts and environment; as a former frontier state that still retains much of the independant spirit, much of our art is directly tied to the environment.

If only we'd elected Tinklenberg & Madia, and given Franken a clear victory, I'd be really happy with our downticket progress.

by Dracomicron 2008-11-07 10:08AM | 0 recs
Re: Phil Krinkie's head musta exploded.

now I was torn, I think this was worthy cause.

but I am against amendments to do it, its a slipery slope and I don't think we should do our budget by amendments.

What if something really came up and we needed that money? or what if we decided to help keep some people in their owns? I hate the flexibility we give up when we do it by amendments and I am from here on out against amending our constitution for this kind of stuff.

if we can't get our legislature to pass it we have to vote new ones in not amend the constitution

by TruthMatters 2008-11-07 06:41PM | 0 recs
I understand, but...

We've found out firsthand that Taxpayer's League toadies like Pawlenty will pillage parts of the budget to enable his penny pinching using any means necessary.  I consider this a failsafe.

by Dracomicron 2008-11-10 06:27AM | 0 recs
Minnesota Sales Tax

Remember, there is no sales tax on clothes or groceries in Minnesota.

by Hughsterg 2008-11-07 12:24PM | 0 recs

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