Thursday, October 16, 2008

It's The Means, Not The Ends: Colleen and Chuck Weigh In On Funding Clean Water, Wildlife Habitat, and the Arts

By Scott Hall

Few people question the value of public funding for clean water and wildlife habitat. The arts enhance our quality of life. But over the last fifteen years there have been many proposals in the MN Legislature to increase funding for these causes, mainly by raisng the sales tax by three eights of a penny. All of these proposals failed, so this year the Legislature decided put it to voters in the form of an amendment to the State Constitution. We asked our political commentators, DFLer Colleen Nardone, and Republican, Chuck Marohn, to tell us how they will vote.

The amendment on the November 4th ballot reads as follows:

Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to dedicate funding to protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, streams and groundwater; by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eights of one percent on taxable sales until the year 2034?


I will vote NO. While these issues may be important, they are obviously not important enough to survive the legislative process. This is bad government. It is the legislature admitting that they cannot do their job and then allowing "the voter" to be the bad guy. If we vote this down, then they will say it is not important and they are justified in not funding it. If we approve it, they will claim to be leaders by setting this aside. It is a political sham.

I am also against because I believe much of the money would be wasted. If you look at the "trust fund" from the lottery proceeds, while some good work has been done, nothing proportionate to the money spent. For the most part, it has actually been a way to defund programs (they can go to the trust fund) or prop up agency spending in light of other budget cuts.

It is smoke and mirrors and bad government. We have enough of that already.


Variations of this amendment have been proposed many times. I have opposed them for some of the same reasons that Chuck opposes this one. If the issues of clean water, wildlife habitat and, in the case of this amendment, arts funding are such a high priority - which I think they are - then the Legislature and Governor should be providing the kind of sustained funding they need. In general, I don't like restricted, specific funding for specific causes, especially in the form of Constitutional amendments.

Having said all that, I'm probably going to vote for the amendment this time. We have gone a long time now without adequately funding wildlife habitat and clean water. Plus I'm a big advocate for the arts because they contribute so much to the quality of life for us here in Minnesota.


Anonymous said...

Yes the legislature should be providing funding for these issues but they never will. That is why we need the public to say they must.

The environment has always been at the bottom of the priority list not because it is not important. It is because there is no high paid lobbying group pushing it. These topics do not get a person re-elected that what pork does and the pork has to be tangible. Clean water just is not sexy enough I guess to bring home to the voters.

I will vote YES so I have a chance to say how my tax dollars should be spent. I am tired of hoping the legislators will do the right thing.

Grand Rapids

Egon Humenberger said...

I am going to vote yes.

We depend on the environment for our own survival, not the other way around.

Saving the environment means saving ourselves.

Anonymous said...

The reason that we hire (i.e. vote them into office) these legislative clowns is to make the decisions that allocate our resources (taxes.) This is just a way for them to avoid having their feet held to the fire. Another hidden tax that will never go away. It is deceitful and shameful that they try to avoid their responsibilities by means such as this!

Chuck Marohn said...

I was told today that the Governor's office and the DNR are dragging their feet on agency budgeting for 2009/10 due to the amendment. If the amendment is approved, the DNR's budget will be cut dramatically as many of the programs can be funded by the amendment.

I support making the environment a priority and agree with the notion that the environment is tied to our health and quality of life. Voting for this amendment might make us feel good, but it is not going to cure the environmental ills we have. It will simply shift the amount of money spent from one trough to another.

I believe this amendment will fail. People who support environmental issues should be concerned that the legislature will use that failure to justify further defunding environmental issues and the arts (since they obviously lack public support, or so the claim will be). Then the environment will lose twice.


Anonymous said...

Ross Williams said...

Colleen and Chuck may be correct that in an ideal world the legislature would provide these funds. But that isn't the way the legislature works. The reality is that the legislative process is dominated by self-interested lobbyists and campaign contributors with an economic stake in decisions who pay them. Natural resources and the arts just don't have enough people with direct economic stakes to compete in that environment.

I don't think its realistic to expect legislators to ignore the hundred lobbyists who are in their face all session with detailed arguments for why what they want is important and then fund a bunch of projects they have only a vague idea about, no matter how worthy. The result is that a lot of very worthy projects that protect natural resources and support the arts simply get lost in the process.

This legislation simply takes a small amount of money and sets it aside to be allocated in a separate process. Its still the governor and legislators who decide how that money will be spent. And sure, we will all think some parts of it were "wasted". We just won't all agree on which parts.

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