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Dedicated funding bill passed

Published (2/15/2008)
By Nick Busse
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It’s been a source of contention and debate at the Legislature for years, and now voters will have their chance to weigh in on the issue of dedicated funding for the environment and the arts.

HF2285, sponsored by House Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DFL-Chisholm) and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller (DFL-Mpls), was approved 85-46 by the House and then 46-16 by the Senate Feb. 14. If approved by a majority of voters in the Nov. 4 general election, the measure would increase the state’s sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent and constitutionally dedicate the money to conservation and cultural programs.

The money, approximately $276 million per year, would be divvied up as follows:

• 33 percent ($91.1 million) to protect fish and wildlife habitat;

• 33 percent ($91.1 million) to clean up state waters, including 5 percent for sustainable drinking water;

• 19.75 percent ($54.5 million) for arts and cultural heritage; and

• 14.75 percent ($39.3 million) for parks and trails.

During a brief floor debate, the bill drew both criticism and praise from members on both sides of the aisle.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) denounced the idea of raising taxes amid a faltering economy and a projected budget deficit. He characterized the bill as part of a “primal scream of tax increases” being proposed by the DFL majority.

Other House members, including Rep. Mindy Greiling (DFL-Roseville), refused to support the bill on the grounds that it set a potentially dangerous precedent of budgeting through the constitution. Rep. Mark Buesgens (R-Jordan), meanwhile, predicted that voters would reject the measure anyway.

Those who spoke out in favor of the bill included Rep. Dennis Ozment (R-Rosemount) and Sertich, both of whom noted that environmental and cultural heritage funding has withered in recent years.

The bill, which has been around in some form or another for nearly a decade, made some headway in the closing weeks of the 2007 session, but was ultimately not passed before the House and Senate adjourned. It was fast-tracked this year in the hopes that early passage would give supporters adequate time to drum up support for the measure before Election Day.

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