Widespread, nonpartisan support produced victory for constitutional amendment

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.”

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Mark Gisleson on 11/05/2008 - 06:39 pm.

    I was bitterly disappointed by this outcome. Unlike the new baseball stadium paid for by Hennepin Co. shoppers only, this amendment puts the burden of paying for these services squarely on EVERY Minnesotan without regard to their ability to contribute or willingness to avail themselves of our natural resources or arts.

    These are matters that should be specifically funded by the legislature. This amendment was a cowardly way out and assumed the voters would be easier managed than the often balky legislature.

    I have lived in Minnesota for almost exactly twenty years now, and my regard for your political leaders has diminished steadily. Never a straight up vote when a complicated measure will provide cover for skittish legislators. Straight talk when is for you can’t do anything and blather is what you hear when you can do something but don’t want to. Constitutional amendments are for when you don’t have the stones to face down a very vocal minority that would rather burn the state down than raise taxes.

    I don’t disagree with the goal of this amendment, just the disagreeable way in which it will be achieved.

  2. Submitted by John Brett on 11/06/2008 - 11:56 am.

    I agree with the Mr. Gleason. It is the job of the legislators to decide how our tax dollars are spent. This is another huge tax increase that will not go away. I am a member of the Walker, the Minneapolis Photography Center, and the Minneapolis Art Institute, I support programs that I believe in or value. I do not expect my neighbors to have to cough up their money to support my causes. This is nonsense.

    The fact that this amendment received wide spread support is further evidence that the general public is badly informed, easily mislead, and vote for things that feel good with no thought to the economic or long term implications.

  3. Submitted by Bernice Vetsch on 11/06/2008 - 12:02 pm.

    It’s called “the common good,” gentlemen, and if the current governor refuses to fund it until after it is too late, then the legislature must (and did) take whatever action necessary to save our natural environment for hunters/fishers/hikers, etc., and assure access to the arts and cultural events to all citizens, not just those with the means to financially support them.

  4. Submitted by Spadafora Spadafora on 11/06/2008 - 12:23 pm.

    Governor Pawlenty says the Vikings need a local funding partner to help pay for the “Metrodome Next” stadium project.

    Minneapoolis is limited to a $10 million stadium contribution unless a referendum is passed for a larger city contribution.

    Hennepin County is tapped-out from funding the Twins stadium project.

    Propoments of the Vikings stadium project are saying the Vikings are a statewide asset and deserve statewide funding.

    Why wasn’t Vikings stadium funding attached to this bill?

    I suspect a 0.5% sales tax increase instead of the 0.375% increase that’s been passed could have settled the contriversial Vikings stadium issue.

    Surely, adding sports fans to the list of those benefiting from the constitutional amendment would have only added to the vote totals.

    Who’s left to partner with the Vikings on another constitutional amendment in 2010?

  5. Submitted by Rod Loper on 11/06/2008 - 01:30 pm.

    I agree. These are steps we need to take for the general good that suffer whenever we face a deficit. How many years since we had a surplus? I
    recall getting my “Jesse Check”. Pawlenty raided the tobacco settlement to pander to the Taxpayer’s League. Previous legislatures raided the lottery proceeds for the general fund. The
    environment and outdoors will always come last
    with this kind of leadership. We just can’t wait.
    This settles the issue of the priorities of the Minnesota electorate and they are far to the left of the antigovernment zealots who get all the attention in the media.

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