The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 1, 2013

Arts supporters tell lawmaker that Legacy funding has been helpful

By Brian Ojanpa
Free Press Staff Writer

NEW ULM — The Friday breakfast-meeting menu at New Ulm’s historic Lind House was simple: Swedish coffee, cinnamon rolls and polite lobbying for pieces of the state money pie.

Advocates of arts and culture touted their causes to state Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Lake Hanska, who has served on the Minnesota House Legacy Funding Committee since its inception.

State voters in 2008 approved the Legacy amendment that includes yearly funding for arts and cultural heritage endeavors, and on Friday those gathered took turns identifying their missions.

Jean Geistfeld spoke up for the ongoing restoration of the historic Grand Hotel in New Ulm.

New Ulm Mayor Bob Buessman gave general kudos to the many entities that have been receiving funding. “The city of New Ulm is the benefactor from all these little programs.”

And longtime New Ulm civic and cultural maven Denis Warta delivered a mini-oratory: “We need to appreciate these finer things in life. These are not wasted dollars.”

According to Waseca-based Prairie Lakes Regional Arts Council, Legacy funding in 2012 accounted for 160 area grants totaling $323,547, plus $300 scholarships to 13 area students.

Torkelson told those assembled that the competition statewide for funding is keen, and it’s his task as a committee member to exercise prudence and fairness in its dispersal.

“I don’t want these funds there as slush funds for legislators to hand out to their favorite projects. There’s a huge demand for funds in the metro area, but part of my job is to see that they’re spread around throughout Minnesota.”

Under the amendment, Legacy funding for arts and culture, the environment and state waters receives three-eighths of a cent on top of the regular state sales tax.

Torkelson said he’s in favor of that amount staying as is regardless of the money windfall that would occur if Gov. Mark Dayton’s is successful in broadening the sales tax on clothing and certain services.

Torkelson stressed that the amendment is set to end in 25 years, and that funding from it should always be viewed only as supplemental to affected programs.

“We want these activities to continue long after these Legacy funds have ended.”

But in the meantime, he said he and fellow committee members are  bullish about being good fiscal stewards.

“We do demand accountability for these funds. We don’t just throw the money out there and forget about it.”