A diverse group of outdoors and conservation groups have come together in a common cause.
They sent a letter to Governor Mark Dayton and legislative leaders on Wednesday, asking them to respect and protect funding from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by Minnesota voters in 2008.
Sixty-six groups, including the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, Pheasants Forever, the Sierra Club, and the Minnesota Environmental Partnership signed the letter. Steve Morse is executive director of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership. He says the coalition of outdoors and conservation groups want to make sure legislators maintain current funding levels for environment and conservation and resist the temptation to raid Legacy Amendment coffers in these tough economic times.
“You know, environment and conservation only gets 1 percent of the state general fund budget, so of all the general tax money that goes in, we get a penny out of every dollar,” says Morse. “The constitution says the legacy money will supplement traditional sources of funding and not substitute for them. And a way to work around the constitution would be to say, well, we’re just going to start not providing regular capital bonding funds for conservation, forestry protection, wildlife areas, parks, trails, flood mitigation, flood protection, and we’re going to use legacy money for that, and that would be a form of raiding it. And so, we’re saying, we understand the budgets may increase, they may decrease, and we just want to keep that 1 percent, that one penny out of every dollar, and we want to make sure they don’t raid our other funds for other purposes. We just want to be real clear that all of the hunting, fishing, environmental, conservation groups all stand united in protecting this interest.”
The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment took effect in July of 2009, increasing the state’s sales and use tax rate by three-eighths of one percentage point (0.375%). There are four funds that receive financial support from the Legacy Amendment: the Outdoor Heritage Fund receives 33 percent of the total tax money collected and is to be used to protect, enhance, and restore wetlands, prairies, forests, and wildlife habitat; the Clean Water Fund also receives 33 percent and is intended to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater, with at least 5% of the fund spent to protect drinking water sources; 14.25 percent goes to the Parks and Trails Fund to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance; and the remaining 19.75% goes to the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund to be spent for arts, arts education, and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage.
The letter sent to Dayton and five other legislative leaders on Wednesday refers to a recent poll showing two-thirds of Minnesota voters contacted agreed with the statement: “In these tough economic times, elected officials must be reminded that we want to protect Minnesota’s Great Outdoors for the long-term. We must not let elected officials raid constitutionally dedicated conservation funds to solve short-term state budget problems.”
To read the letter and the list of organizations signing it, go to http://bit.ly/AmendmentLetter