On November 4th 2008, the citizens of Minnesota went to the voting box and approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. Now grant-funded programs such as fine arts associations, conservation programs and environmental awareness groups will be supplemented by the addition of a slight increase to our state sales tax from 6.5% to 6.875%.
The highly publicized arguments for or against the plan have become inconsequential and the time for arguing about who gets the money has begun! Unfortunately for the multitudes of eco conservation teams and metro cultural gurus who were counting on a large financial boost, the rough economy has put the pinch on the expected money flow.
Budget cuts proposed by Gov. Pawlenty in his January State Address showed an average 2.2% was cut from the entire budget, although it appears to those involved that the arts and conservation programs have received larger cuts by comparison. After the economy took a turn for the worst Gov. Pawlenty made a public commitment not to touch the cash influx from the amendment to help stop up gaps in the already plunging bottom line of other state funded programs. Although he and the commissioner of Minnesota Management and Budget claim that the cuts were not targeted in any way – a rising sense of betrayal can be felt in the non-profit sector over losing a portion of the hard earned funding. Given the task of turning those lemons into still slightly sour lemonade, the committees created for the appropriation of funds are now starting their proposal sessions.
So what’s happening with the money? According to the DNR webpage created specifically to answer that question, the percentage break down of the funds will be approximately this: 33% to the Outdoor Heritage Fund, 33% to the Clean Water Fund with at least 5% of that funding to be used for drinking water sources, 14.25% for the Parks and Trails Fund, and 19.75% for the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
The Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council has just finished its deliberations on the Outdoor Heritage portion of the amendment with more meetings to follow. The Council met three times (Feb.23, March 8, March 9) to hear the proposals of different wildlife and land conservation programs with the intention of sending final funding recommendations to the Capitol by March 16th.
The Council is made up of 16 public citizens and politicians of whom the Governors office and the members of the House and Senate have appointed specifically for the job of finding the best programs to present to the legislature for payment. At these meetings testimonies were given by program directors, concerned citizens and even members of the House and Senate who backed particular programs from the areas they represent. Presentations were given for projects ranging from wetland conservation and property purchases in Anoka County to scientific/conservatory studies of lake fisheries, aviary preserves and wildlife expansion techniques.
Speakers such as Representative Diane Loeffler who addressed the Forest Protection Plan and Ron Severs, who represented the Wildlife Research Bufferlands Acquisition, were there to promote land purchases for preservation and reforestation. John Lindquist from the Christina Lake Association asked for an additional $100,000-$200,000 funding boost for a pumping project needed in clean lake restoration work while Tom Henzel from Le Sueur County endorsed a waterfowl project called Ducks Unlimited Living Lakes Initiative. Not forgetting our famous but almost depleted prairielands, Bob Austin had a $25,000 pet project that involved controlled prairie burnings and native plant re-growth. Some proposals are incredibly involved and therefore more expensive, like the DNR sponsored Forests for the Future/Upper MS River Project with a pricetag of $42,700,000.00 Others are seemingly less extravagant but still worthwhile such as the $41,000 Wild Rice Accelerated Management Project. All have come for help but not all will get it.
The next step for the Council in this grueling process of doling out money will be to allocate specific amounts to each program and make sure it adds up to the right amount – approximately $80 million according to the DNR breakdown (give or take a couple million). The council has so far done a wonderful job of cutting out the projects that hinder the growth of similar programs already in place and focusing instead on new ideas for conservation and restoration. The pressure is on to make the tough decisions and the council has done their homework on what is needed and who is best suited to help keep our state lush and beautiful for generations to come.
_Genevieve Ashenfelter is enrolled at Anoka-Ramsey Community College_