The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Outdoors

February 12, 2012

Cross: Lawmakers heading in wrong direction with Legacy Fund

ST PETER — What is it with politicians and the English language?

Fifteen years ago, President Bill Clinton enlightened a grand jury on precisely what the word “is” really means.

And now some members of the Minnesota Legislature don’t quite seem to grasp the difference between the words “supplement” and “substitute.”

Four years ago, Minnesotans approved a constitutional amendment earmarking a three-eighths of 1 percent increase in the sales tax for conservation, clean water and the arts.

In Article XI, Section 15 of the Minnesota Constitution, a portion of the amendment reads: The dedicated money under this section must supplement traditional sources of funding for these purposes and may not be used as a substitute.

A third of the money was dedicated to an outdoor heritage council, a third to a clean water fund, 14.25 percent to trails and waterways and 19.25 percent to an arts and heritage fund.

By the time voters approved the 2008 Legacy Amendment, the Legislature was only appropriating 1 percent of the the general fund to conservation and clean water issues.

During the last legislative session, lawmakers faced with a gigantic revenue shortfall had to make budgetary cuts to the various departments. Most reductions were in the 5- to 10-percent range.

However, legislative funding levels for several state agencies dealing with conservation and clean water issues were cut much more deeply, as much as 40 percent in the case of the Pollution Control Agency.

Appropriation levels set by lawmakers always are moving targets but particularly in these economic times, consistent funding levels from biennium to biennium never are assured.

And in the face of the severe budgetary shortfalls Minnesota faced last year, budget cuts to the various agencies were necessary and understandable.

But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to deduce that some policy makers have decided that cuts to some agencies can be more severe and then mitigated by raiding the Legacy money.

Such action goes directly in the face of what Minnesota residents approved when they voted for the Legacy Amendment.

After decades of watching the quality of state natural resources decline and as related funding dwindled to 1 percent of the annual budget, voters decided that if lawmakers couldn’t act, they would. The amendment was approved by more than 60 percent.

Some policy makers claim to be confused by precisely what voters expected in all of this.

Actually, it’s all pretty simple.

Voters expected the Legacy money to be used to restore, protect and enhance our state’s resources, to augment the paltry general fund appropriations that hadn’t been enough to get the job done.

They understand that in the current economic landscape, budget cuts are necessary.

But they also can see right through a ruse that happens to cut budgets more severely for those entities that happen to have access to Legacy funds than those that don’t.

The operative word in the Legacy Amendment is supplement, not substitute.

Not very confusing at all.

John Cross is a Free Press staff writer. Contact him at 344-6376 or by e-mail at jcross@mankatofreepress.com.

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