SCOTT RALL COLUMN: A legacy for a lifetime
WORTHINGTON -- The passage of the Land and Legacy amendment in 2008 raised the sales tax in Minnesota by three-eighths of 1 percent to create dedicated funding for the outdoors. It's a legacy we should feel good about.
It really bums me out that so few Minnesotans even know about the Legacy Amendment. I have written about it at least 20 times in this column, but from my ground-level research visiting with the general public, less than 10 percent of Minnesotans even know what it is or what it was designed to do.
The summary plan description of the amendment is this -- a voter initiative placed the question on the ballot in 2008 that went something like this (not the exact wording): Should the sales tax in Minnesota be raised three-eighths of 1 percent, with the money to be dedicated to the state's clean water, game, fish and wildlife habitats, parks and trails and cultural heritage?
This amendment's passage would change the Minnesota state constitution; and when the question was asked in 2008 it passed by the highest margin of any voter tax increase in any states history. It raises about $300 million per year and is split four ways, one-third to game, fish and wildlife habitat, one-third to the state's clean water efforts, and the last third is split about 60/40 between parks and trails and cultural heritage.
In the end, about $90 million is available for the betterment of the state's natural resources. We are absolutely the envy of the nation. Iowa passed its own version of this, except for now it got them absolutely nothing. Only if the state raises its sales tax in the future will any money be available for the natural resources of the state of Iowa. It's a positive move but when, if ever, will the sales taxes ever get raised? That's a bet for the Vegas odds makers.
The story in Minnesota is very different. As a member of the citizens' council that makes spending recommendations to the state legislature, I just finished my recommendations as to where I think $90 million could best be spent in the state next year. The council of eight citizens and four legislators voted 12-0 in favor of the slate of approved projects just last week. It is a great sense of accomplishment when the vote goes 12-0. It means consensus was reached and this is not always an easy thing to achieve.
When you think about leaving a legacy, what does that mean? To me it has to include, as council co-member Ron Shara says, "We need to move the needle." We have to leave a state looking differently 25 years from now than it does now. This means doing the hard stuff and defending these efforts to all who would like to divert or otherwise spend the money in ways never intended. Gary Leaf was a key component in the passage of dedicated funding. He once told me that passing dedicated funding is only the first step. Defending dedicated funding takes 25 more years.
Last year. the Trust for Public Lands brought forth a legacy project called the Mississippi River Northwoods Project. It was an $11 million acquisition of three miles of undeveloped Mississippi River shoreline and 2,000 acres of associated forest lands that were attached. This was and is a huge undertaking. It was to be held by the state and open to the public.
It wasn't long before the political machine started its engine. There was just a huge laundry list of why they thought this project was a bad idea. The state would have to pay for the management of the property and make a payment to the county. The appraisal was too high and there might even be a bike trail through it. The project got more scrutiny than any other project passed last year.
When I thought about Lake Vermillion State Park, which the Minnesota Legislature bought the same year for well over the appraised value of the land, and with double the payments to the counties affected, I wonder why one similar project was a great idea and the Mississippi River Northwoods Project was just horrible.
In the end -- after intense wrangling, additional appraisals, hundreds of man/women hours and a groundswell of support from Minnesota citizens and members of the council I sit on -- the project has come to fruition. There will soon be 2,000 acres open to the public for hunting, fishing and hiking when the deal is finalized and closed. It will be owned by Crow Wing County so there are no state payments to the county. We now have the permanent protection of one of the most beautiful pieces of property in the state. There is literally none others like it.
The addition of this parcel connects adjoining properties and now means there are nine miles of the Mississippi River that will never be developed. That is a legacy I am very proud of and the voters of the amendment's passage should be proud of it too. With this project, we have moved the needle when it comes to making Minnesota look differently 25 years from now. If you voted against the amendment, I encourage you to go see this legacy property and you will most likely soften your position or even change your mind outright.
Becca Nash and Susan Schmidt of the Trust for Public Lands are two of the hardest working individuals I know working on the conservation scene. Without their efforts, this project might very well have crashed and burned. That would have been a pity.
We need legacy projects. These are the big ones, the hardest to find, the most difficult to present, the most difficult to get funded and ultimately the most difficult to get completed. They are also the ones that will move the conservation needle the greatest distance and the ones that will stand out as the greatest successes of our lifetime and for the lifetimes of those who come after.
The Mississippi River Northwoods Project is a legacy project to be very proud of. I know I am.
Scott Rall is the Daily Globe's outdoors columnist. His column can also be read weekly at www.dglobe.com.