Downballot succes: Minnesota's third way
by the mollusk, Fri Nov 07, 2008 at 09:46:45 AM EST
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?