Constitutional amendment for arts, environment to be on November ballot

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The amendment would be a 3/8 of 1 percent tax increase, to go to arts and environment funding.

A landmark presidential race, a contested Senate seat and numerous local and state races will be on election ballots on Nov. 4, but some Minnesota activists hope voters don’t overlook the proposed amendment to Minnesota’s Constitution that will be up for vote as well.

If approved, the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment , would provide the state about $276 million a year for 25 years to fund the environment and the arts in Minnesota.

Clean Air, Water … and Art

The amendment would create an added 3/8 of 1 percent onto Minnesota’s sales tax, creating more than $300 million per year in revenue for the state to divvy among environmental and arts causes.

An exact breakdown of where funding would go includes:

-33 percent for water quality
-33 percent for wildlife
-19.75 percent for arts funding
-14.25 percent for parks

“This bill is about protecting the quality of life you love,” said Charlie Poster , spokesman for Vote Yes Minnesota , a group advocating the amendment.

Sara Shaylie , an art history senior and member of the Minnesota Citizens for Arts , a group that lobbied at the state Capitol for the amendment, said the partnership between the environment and the arts appealed to her.

“They came up with the idea that we should all work together and try and consider the environment as a whole in Minnesota, as not just the natural environment, but as the natural, artistic and cultural environment,” she said.

Amending Minnesota’s Constitution

The amendment, more than 10 years in the making, Poster said, was added to November’s ballot by the state House and Senate in February .

“It’s slowly made the political journey,” he said.

In Minnesota, a constitutional amendment must pass through the Legislature, and then requires a “yes” vote on more than half of all ballots passed to succeed – a blank ballot is a “no” vote.

No action by the governor is required to put an amendment up for vote.

“Our challenge is to make people know it’s on the ballot,” he said.

Influencing the original crafting of the amendment was a similar one from Missouri in the 1970s.

Poster said amendment designers learned from Missouri’s – that amendment was a permanent 1/8 of 1 percent tax increase, leading to never-ending revenue growth, Poster said.

Minnesota’s amendment would be a 25-year project .

So, yea or nay?

Many within the environment and arts communities are pleased with the amendment.

“I think it represents a wide demographic of Minnesotans,” Shaylie said. “It’s something that benefits everybody in the state.”

The discrepancy between arts and environment funding doesn’t bother Zachary Crockett , a music graduate student.

“I trust that the people who forged the bill did some research to figure out a good balance,” he said. “There’s no, ‘Aw, we want more.’ “

Some, however, like the Taxpayers League of Minnesota , contend the tax increase is “bad fiscal policy.”

“The hundreds of millions raised through the tax increase will no doubt be used for any number of pet projects and wasteful spending initiatives,” according to the group’s Web site.

A spokesman from the Taxpayer’s League did not return calls for comment.

Crockett said he was willing to accept what he called a “tiny, tiny tax.”

“I support, in general, environment causes and arts causes,” he said. “These are things close to my heart.”