A proposed constitutional amendment to provide dedicated funding for the environment and arts during the next 25 years is proving to be one of the most intriguing statewide election battles, with two patchwork coalitions at odds over issues of constitutionality, taxes and civic priority.
If approved, the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will implement a 0.375-percent sales tax increase beginning July 1, 2009. More than $300 million is expected to be generated over the tax’s 25-year lifespan. A third of the monies raised will be deposited in an outdoor heritage fund and will be spent only to protect and restore wetland, prairie and forest habitat. Another third will go to a clean water fund to protect drinking water, groundwater and the state’s many lakes, rivers and streams. Twenty percent of the remaining receipts will go toward arts and heritage preservation, with the remainder directed to parks and trails.
The initiative is receiving strong support from the arts and environmental communities, but outdoor sporting enthusiasts are also playing a leading role. Prominent organizations like Ducks Unlimited and Pheasants Forever are testing their political strength by asking their generally conservative membership to support a tax increase, a risk worth the potential benefit to their cause. Whether the efforts are successful or not, sportsmen are paying close attention to the issue.
Many opponents claim not to take exception to idea of funding for the environment and arts but instead argue that a voter referendum supplants the constitutional role of the state Legislature and would hamstring the state with an inflexible budgets. Others simply oppose the tax increase or see the money going to special interest groups.
Regardless of the civic and political interests at play, voters are likely going to make their decision with money in mind. Just as this year’s presidential election was thrown for a loop with the collapse of America’s investment banks, the economic turmoil will likely impact this campaign as well. Many people may give second thought to the significance of an increase that will add nearly four cents to every $10 purchase.