Outdoors, arts amendment advances in state Senate
ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans could decide later this year whether to pay more in taxes to ensure funding for the outdoors and the arts. A proposal allowing voters to decide in November if the State Constitution should be amended to dedicate sales tax ...
ST. PAUL -- Minnesotans could decide later this year whether to pay more in taxes to ensure funding for the outdoors and the arts.
A proposal allowing voters to decide in November if the State Constitution should be amended to dedicate sales tax revenue to those causes passed its first Senate committee on Friday.
The bill's author, Sen. Dallas Sams, said the measure is needed to "preserve Minnesota's outdoor heritage and quality of life traditions."
"Unless we dedicate more to these areas, we will not be able to pass this heritage on to other generations," the Staples DFLer told the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.
The DFL-controlled committee voted 8-0 to advance the bill. Committee members also increased the sales tax hike -- a proposal many House Republicans oppose.
Sams initially called for a 25-cent sales tax increase on $100, but the committee amended the bill to 37 cents on $100 spent. The proposed increase could generate $276 million in 2009, the first year of full funding.
If voters approved the ballot measure, the sales tax increase would kick in July 1, 2007.
Revenue would be split four ways. Thirty-four percent would go toward a Heritage Enhancement Fund for fish and wildlife protection. The remainder would be split evenly between a parks and trails fund; efforts to clean the state's waters; and arts and humanities causes such as the State Arts Board, public broadcasting and museums.
Outdoors groups told the committee that the state has cut support for the environment in recent years and that adequate natural resources funding is critical.
"Ironically, we may lose the very things that define us as a state -- our surroundings," warned Lance Ness, president of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance.
Arts supporters told senators that many Minnesotans enjoy cultural events and that those programs need dedicated state funding to remain vibrant.
"Recreational activity is a very broad brush," said Larry Redmond of the Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, explaining that Minnesotans like both the outdoors and the arts.
Sen. Pat Pariseau, R-Farmington, wanted to change the bill to increase the amount of funding for fishing, hunting and wildlife causes and reduce the amount dedicated to the arts. Her amendment failed.
Pariseau said she doesn't know how many fellow Senate Republicans can support the bill if the arts provisions remain.
"It could be (problematic) with some people," she said.
The DFL-controlled Senate bill varies greatly from what House Republicans want.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum said Friday he favors a streamlined constitutionally dedicated funding proposal. That version would let voters decide whether existing sales tax revenue -- about 12 cents on $100 - should be used for the environment and conservation, but not the arts.
Sviggum, R-Kenyon, said that by adding arts and humanities groups to the list of funding recipients, the Senate is making it more difficult to get something approved.
"We will be doing the intent of the bill as originally introduced," Sviggum said. The House version is expected to be in committee next week.
Conservation and outdoors groups have been pushing for additional revenue for the outdoors for several years. Joe Duggan of Pheasants Forever, who attended the Senate committee hearing, said his group just wants to see movement by lawmakers this session.
"We want to see dedicated funding pass," he said.
Like some lawmakers, outdoors groups also are concerned about how the addition of arts to the proposal could affect turnout for the proposed amendment in November.
"It brings some elements and detracts others," Duggan said. In previous years, similar proposals haven't included the arts.
The Senate committee heard Sams' bill one day after hundreds of arts supporters rallied at the Capitol to have their cause included in the proposed amendment. They were touting a statewide study that found that arts audiences spent $352 million last year and arts-related events drew more than 14 million attendees.
"For Minnesota, the arts mean business," said Randy Cohen, vice president of Americans for the Arts.