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Pioneer Editorial: Not a special session unless only outdoors

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Legislative leaders are slated to meet this week in an effort to resurrect for the fall ballot a constitutional amendment question asking voters to dedicate funding for the outdoors -- or maybe Sparky the sea lion, or maybe Barney the purple dinosaur.

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That's what became part of the problem lawmakers could not agree upon -- what would be covered by dedicated funding. An original proposal to dedicate a portion of the state's sales tax to game and fish programs eventually grew to also cover zoos and public broadcasting, as well as parks and the arts.

Another part of the problem was how much. The original proposal called for dedicating a small portion of the current 6.5 percent state sales tax, while with the addition of several more program areas to fund, new proposals called for increasing the state sales tax as well as using some of the current tax.

Now, Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar, and House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, say they will meet on Tuesday to discuss ways to compromise. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said he would be willing to call a special session for the only purpose of approving the amendment for a statewide vote in November.

As much as we support efforts to ensure that funding to provide wildlife and fish habitat are well funded, we seriously doubt that a compromise can be found that isn't political and doesn't create potential long-term problems in the definition of dedicated funding.

The original idea of ensuring a constant flow of dollars to hunting and fishing conservation programs makes sense -- we cherish our natural resources and want to ensure that they are available for genera-tions and generations. It's a goal we can all agree upon and should not change over time. It makes sense to dedicate that kind of funding, and the original proposal called for doing it without directly raising taxes.

But under a political system, that goal became burdened with other prospects to ensure passage but may cause more harm. While the arts, public broadcasting and zoos are important assets, they aren't vital. We can do without Barney, but not without a vibrant ecosystem for wildlife and fish. We would be less harmed if a writer of poetry didn't get a grant than if we ignored our wetlands and the ducks left Minnesota.

They are programs that, if they earn mer-it, should be properly funded through the state's General Fund, in competition with all our priorities. But so-called "outdoors" funding should not have to compete -- as it does now -- since the conservation of our natural resources is our heritage.

So, we hope that those who meet this week don't do what's politically expedient -- hold a special session just to give everyone something they can say they saved -- but hold out for what's right for Minnesota. And that's the original proposal to dedicate funding for the outdoors.

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