Momentum builds for 3/16s

St. Paul After cruising through a Senate committee on Monday,
the so-called 3/16s proposal struck some rough water Tuesday in the
House Government Operations Committee. Proponents hope the
legislation can see floor votes before the 2002 Legislative Session
ends May 20.

Earlier this month, gubernatorial politics gave fresh life to
the 3/16s plan, which would consitutional dedicate state dollars to
improve lakes, parks and wildlife areas.

Sen. Bob Lessard, I-International Falls, and Rep. Mark Holsten,
R-Stillwater, have been pushing since 2000 to permanently dedicate
a chunk of state sales tax collections to hunting, fishing and
environmental programs.

Until recently, they haven’t had much success. But two weeks
ago, each of the major Republican and Democrat candidates for
governor endorsed the plan. That means that now each of the top
leaders of the Legislature back the idea.

“The dynamics of this issue have changed dramatically over the
last couple of days,” Holsten said at a press conference last
Thursday at the State Office Building in St. Paul.

The plan would require a change in the state constitution. The
Legislature would vote to put the matter on the ballot, and voters
would have the final say. They would be asked to dedicate 3/16 of 1
percent on taxable sales to resource programs. Lessard said that
would be about $115 million per year.

The money wouldn’t come from an increase in the sales tax. It
would come from the general fund, meaning less money would be
available for such things as education or social programs.

“The people will make that decision,” Lessard said. The outdoors
money would improve quality of life in the state, he said.

As originally proposed, about 57 percent of the money would go
to a fund to improve hunting and fishing areas and the rest would
go to state and metropolitan area parks and trails. But the Senate
Environment and Natural Resources Policy Committee altered that
formula slightly on Monday.

As passed by the committee, headed by Sen. Jane Krentz, DFL-May
Township, 50 percent of the dollars would go to a fish and wildlife
Heritage Preservation Fund. State and local parks woul each receive
221/2 percent of the dollars; 3 percent would go to grant-in-aid
trails, and state zoos would get 2 percent.

“We debated and massaged it for about three hours, and I think
we improved it,” Krentz said. We brought the zoos in to build a
little broader support, and I didn’t hear any no votes at the
end.”

The measure was slated for an appearance in the Senate
Government Operations Committee late this week, perhaps by
Wednesday.

On Tuesday morning, members of the House Government Operations
committee eliminated the Heritage’ advisory committee that would
recommend expenditures to the Legislature. Other members of the
committee were trying to amend a 3/16s deidcation for education
spending to the bill as well. Action in the committee ended after
Outdoor News’ press time.

Lawmakers had once planned to have the session completed by now,
but little progress has been made toward a session-ending budget
deal in weeks.

If passed, voters would see the ballot measure in November but
the money would not start flowing until 2005.

The plan has broad support from outdoors groups, including Ducks
Unlimited, the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association and Pheasants
Forever.

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