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Voters asked to raise tax

ST. PAUL -- Most Minnesotans agree the state's water needs to be cleaned up.

They support parks, trails and the wide variety of arts programs found around the state.

On Nov. 4, Minnesota voters decide whether to put their money where their mouth is by raising sales tax 0.375 percent via a constitutional amendment that keeps the increase in place for 25 years.

Then-Sen. Bob Lessard of International Falls launched a constitutional amendment effort to improve hunting and fishing opportunities 10 years ago. As leverage to gain votes, supporters have enlarged the plan to include money for clean water, enhanced prairies and forests, better fish and game habitat, parks, trails, arts and history programs -- and now propose to increase taxes instead of taking funds out of existing taxes.

The state Revenue Department estimates the tax increase, scheduled to begin next July 1, would bring in $11 billion during the amendment's 25-year life.

Supporters emphasize the politically popular outdoors part of the amendment, downplaying the more controversial arts funding, saying arts only would receive 20 percent of the new money.

Vote Yes for Minnesota campaign organizers say lawmakers have not provided adequate money for efforts to clean the state's water or for other outdoors-related programs.

"How are we going to do that in the next 30 years?" asked Ken Martin, the Vote Yes campaign manager.

Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, offered a simple answer as an amendment opponent: "That's why we elect legislators -- to take care of this."

Vote Yes claims more than 300 organizations as supporters, most of which could see some money from the added tax. Opponents can claim far fewer groups, most notably the state Chamber of Commerce, Taxpayers League of Minnesota and Farm Bureau.

Money also is on the Vote Yes side. It probably will spend $5 million for the campaign, while opponents have about $100,000 in the bank.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.