Arts, outdoors amendment passes

By John Weiss

Money from the increased sales tax that Minnesotans approved in Tuesday’s election could be a boon for Lake Zumbro and the entire Zumbro River Watershed.

The Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage and Natural Areas Amendment was favored by 59 percent of voters.

Lake Zumbro, a reservoir downriver of Rochester, has been filling in dramatically and local residents are trying to find money to dredge it, said Ron Fuller, secretary of the board of directors of the Zumbro Watershed Project. He doesn’t think money from the Legacy Amendment will help with dredging but it could slow future erosion.


"You have to work the whole problem," he said this morning. "If you want to save those lakes, you have to get into the uplands and get the buffers in place."

He hopes the pot of money for water quality, estimated to be nearly $100 million a year, will come down to this region to help pay landowners to leave grasses along streambanks or put grass waterways in their fields. Both help slow erosion.

"That would be an ideal application for it (the money)," he said. "I would certainly think that we will be able to identify projects in the watershed that would benefit."

He’s not certain just how much money will be available. "There are going to be a lot of people who are going to rush at that pot," he said. "I don’t know how competitive Zumbro Watershed Project (will) be." Being well organized and established should help, he said.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has already identified streams that have too much sediment or fecal coliform from animal or human waste. It’s possible some of that money could go to help combat all the problems, he said.

One drawback to helping this lake, and watershed, is that the Minnesota Legislature might not want to devote other funds toward such projects now that the amendment passed, he said.

Passage means the sales tax will increase by three-eighths of 1 percent to provide a new pool of funding for outdoors, environmental, arts and cultural programs. It will generate an estimated $300 million a year in today’s dollars, or around $11 billion over the next 25 years. The tax increase takes effect July 1, 2009.

Money will be divided roughly with a third going to clean water, a third to fish and wildlife and the rest to parks and trails and expanding access to the arts.


The proposal started out as an outdoors-only amendment, but remained stuck in the Legislature for close to 10 years until arts and cultural programs were added to the mix to win more support.

Most of the organized opposition came from the Minnesota Taxpayers League and its affiliated No Sales Tax Increase campaign, which contended that Minnesotans are already overtaxed. Critics also opposed creating such a large dedicated funding source just for outdoors and arts programs, saying it should be up to the Legislature to balance spending in those areas against other priorities.

State constitutional amendment:

Yes: 1,634,028

No: 1,141,129

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