Minnesota voters recorded an impressive accomplishment Tuesday in balloting on the proposed constitutional amendment: More citizens cast “Yes” ballots for the amendment than voted for either Barack Obama, John McCain, Norm Coleman or Al Franken.
“This was truly nonpartisan,” said Vote Yes campaign manager Ken Martin of voter support for the “Clean Water, Land and Legacy” amendment pushed by a diverse coalition of hunters, hikers, water advocates and artists.
In Hennepin County, for example, where the parks and trails and arts folks might be expected to be the dominant issue, the amendment garnered 66 percent yes votes, 3 points more than Obama, reported Paul Austin of Conservation Minnesota in an email today to supporters. In Stearns County, home to St. Cloud, the amendment nailed down 60 percent of the vote, 8 points more than John McCain.
“We had a great field operation,” said Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. “And I think the citizens of Minnesota responded to our message. This is about the Minnesota that we love. It’s about who we are as a state.”
A final tally shows the amendment, which will raise the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent, passed with 56 percent of the vote.
In a constitutional issue, it’s not the number of votes that win, but the number of voters. Abstaining on the ballot was considered a “No.”
But the so-called “drop-off rate” — that is, the number of folks who vote in the election but not on the initiative — was a relatively low 4.7 percent, or significantly less than advocates expected.
Indeed, Martin had predicted that as many as 8.7 percent of voters would not offer an opinion on the amendment, which will raise about $274 million annually and be dedicated and divided into four different funds: for outdoors issues and habitat; clean water; parks and trails; and arts and other cultural institutions, such as the Minnesota Historical Society.
But Martin said his campaign targeted campuses, low-income areas and minority precincts to get out the vote.
The tax increase will add 38 cents to a $100 purchase.
Opponents criticized the use of a constitutional amendment to legislate and appropriate. Others blasted an increase in taxes.
But, to no avail. So, now some key environmental and cultural programs will be somewhat flush with dough.
For the outdoors, a process is in place to distribute the $90 million in annual tax revenues once they begin to be captured in 2010.
A law has already been passed to establish the “Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council,” a citizens’ group, appointed by the governor and Legislature, that will make recommendations on funding needs to lawmakers.
The council is named after Bob Lessard, the former International Falls lawmaker who was the pioneer on this amendment.
Similar citizens’ councils, yet to be established, are expected to direct funding for clean water and parks and trails matters.
In the arts, the State Arts Board and 11 regional arts councils are engaged in a strategic plan right now to assess arts and arts education needs. By the time the sales tax proceeds kick in, the arts boards will have a feel for which organizations — from museums to regional theaters — want and need funding.
For now, the State Arts Board and regional councils distribute about $10 million annually. Once the sales tax is imposed, that amount will soar to $40 million annually.
Smith said with the down economy and the dip in charitable giving, arts organizations can survive and sustain programs with the infusion of state funds.
“It’s now going to be fascinating to watch this process come to fruition,” said Martin. “It’s a new and exciting way to get things done here in a state that’s been stuck in neutral.”