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Outdoors almanac: Bill would preserve outdoors
Staff and Wire Reports
March 16, 2005 ONOT0316

A proposal to dedicate one-fourth of one percentage point of the state sales tax to preserve the state's outdoor resources and clean up its water has been revived at the Minnesota Legislature.

Under the proposal, voters would be asked to amend the state Constitution to divert that portion of the sales tax into the environmental fund. It would not raise the overall sales tax rate.

The amendment would raise $176 million a year, which would be diverted to two main sources. Half would go to fish and wildlife resources, protection of outdoor areas and tourism. The other half would go to water cleanup initiatives.

That's a possible alternative to the proposed Clean Water Legacy Act, a bill currently working its way through the Legislature that would raise a similar amount for water cleanup with an increase in the state's sewer fee. That proposal has run into opposition in recent weeks, with some legislators concerned it would weigh heavier on some parts of the state.

Using the sales tax instead is "a fair way of raising the same amount of money," said Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, sponsor of the constitutional amendment.

Saxhaug's bill is sponsored in the House by the Republican chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee, and Saxhaug said he hoped it would serve as an alternative to those worried about the sewer tax. If approved by the Legislature, Minnesotans would vote on the question in the 2006 election.

It's unclear how the state would fill the $176 million gap if those existing sales tax dollars are diverted to natural resources. Also, previous attempts to promote the so-called dedicated funding idea have caused other legislators to suggested dedicated funding for other issues, such as schools, parks, zoos and the arts.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued a statement Tuesday saying he supports the efforts.

"I've been a longtime supporter of efforts to dedicate a portion of the sales tax to preserving and enhancing the outdoors," Pawlenty said. "Passing a constitutional dedication for conservation and clean water will help protect our environment for future generations."

Pawlenty also said "we need to pass needed reforms to make sure our resources are being well-spent. I encourage the Legislature to pass my proposal for a new Minnesota Conservation Heritage Foundation this year."
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