The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 28, 2008

Bud Grant rallies for amendment

By Tim Krohn

MANKATO — With the passage of an amendment to provide dedicated funding for conservation and arts projects an apparent tossup on Election Day, supporters brought in former Vikings coach Bud Grant to rally Mankato sportsmen.

Grant, an avid sportsman, said increasing the sales tax and dedicating it to the outdoors is necessary to protect the state’s outdoor heritage.

“We are the crown jewel of this country,” Grant said Tuesday to a group of sportsmen at Scheels All Sports.

If more funding isn’t put into publicly accessible land, he said, “We’ll be like Europe where if you don’t have money, you don’t hunt and fish.”

Polls have shown the amendment to be close. Supporters are concerned about voters who choose not to vote on the amendment as a non-vote is counted as a no vote for constitutional amendment questions.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment would increase the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent, raising nearly $300 million annually for the next 25 years.

Thirty-three percent would be used for fish and wildlife improvement; 33 percent would clean up Minnesota's lakes and rivers; arts and cultural projects would get 19.75 percent, and parks and trails would get 14.25 percent.

The Mankato event was part of a statewide tour by the Vote Yes campaign, a coalition of hunting, environmental and arts groups.

Opponents also have made appearances and are running ads, arguing that lawmakers should be the ones make tax and spending decisions.

Minnesota Taxpayers League President Phil Krinkie, who is leading the Vote No campaign, said in a phone interview that he supports increased spending on water and habitat. But he said increasing the sales tax and dedicating the spending in the state Constitution is the wrong way to do it.

Krinkie said he was supportive of an earlier proposal that focused only on water and habitat that would have dedicated part of the existing tax. But, he said, adding arts, parks and increasing the tax are wrong.

“I respect the efforts and commitment these associations have toward improving wildlife habitat and improving natural resources, but I feel they made a deal with the devil when they added the other components,” Krinkie said.

He said lawmakers need to find additional revenue for the outdoors with one possibility being to dedicate more lottery proceeds to the outdoors rather than sending it to the general fund.

But former longtime Sen. Bob Lessard, who joined Grant, said adequate funding has never survived the Legislature. “It will never go through the legislative process.”

Outdoor TV and radio host Ron Schara said that while 70 percent of the state budget goes to education and social services, just 1.3 percent goes to natural resources.

Schara cited the Minnesota River, once listed as one of the most polluted in the nation, as being a benefactor if the amendment passes.

The Vote Yes group expects to spend nearly $5 million while the Vote No group said it will likely spend about $500,000.

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