Wednesday, February 8th, 2023
Wednesday, February 8th, 2023

Breaking News for

Sportsmen Since 1967

Survey: Majority of voters behind dedicated funding

By Joe
Albert
Staff Writer

St. Paul – For more than eight years the concept has been in the
picture, and a majority of people in the state remain supportive of
the idea to use a constitutional amendment to dedicate funds to
natural resources.

That’s according to a survey conducted by two firms – one
Republican, one Democratic – in early February and released late
last week.

Specifically, the survey of 803 registered voters found that 55
percent would vote in favor of a 3/8 of 1 percent tax increase to
fund water, land, and wildlife conservation. Thirty-five percent
said they would vote against it, and 10 percent were undecided.

The margin of error was 3.5 percent.

‘We still have very strong support from a majority of Minnesota
voters for natural resource conservation, and they are willing to
pay for it,’ said Tom Landwehr, The Nature Conservancy’s assistant
state director.

TNC and the Minnesota office of the Trust for Public Land
sponsored the survey, which was completed for Great Outdoors
Minnesota, an umbrella group of for a number of conservation groups
in the state. Those groups are pushing a dedicated funding bill –
introduced by Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, and Sen. Ellen
Anderson, DFL-St. Paul – that would increase the sales tax by 1/4
of 1 percent and dedicate half to habitat and parks, half to clean
water.

But other bills currently in play, including the one that’s
moving through the Senate, also include funding for the arts. House
and Senate leaders alike have said arts is likely to be part of the
package.

The survey found that support didn’t change much whether the
arts were included or not.

‘Arts don’t seem to matter,’ said Lance Ness, president of the
Fish and Wildlife Legislative Alliance. ‘It appears to be a
non-issue anymore, except that we don’t like it, of course.’

While inclusion of the arts doesn’t appear to kill the bill’s
chances, funding for them was clearly a lower-tier priority than
was conservation.

The following topics were listed as extremely or very important
to survey respondents:

82 percent: protecting and improving drinking water
quality.

81 percent: testing and cleaning up lakes and rivers that have
unsafe levels of pollution.

78 percent: protecting and restoring the water quality of
lakes, rivers, and streams.

67 percent: protecting the state’s fish, habitat, and
wildlife.

64 percent: protecting wetlands.

39 percent: supporting the humanities.

29 percent: supporting the arts.

‘The public showed very strong bi-partisan support for
sportsmen’s issues regarding habitat, safe and clean waters,
forests, and recreational access,’ said Garry Leaf, of Sportsmen
for Change. ‘Increasing the size of the environmental amendment to
3/8 of 1 percent to include humanities, arts, and public
broadcasting showed no margin for victory, and it didn’t increase
public support. And that assumes no opposition to a ballot
initiative.’

Landwehr is hopeful the arts won’t be included on a bill, but
said it will be a political decision made by legislators.

‘Everybody thought (the arts) would trash (support for the
bill), but it didn’t do anything,’ he said. ‘Our position is, we
need dedicated funding for natural resources, and that’s what we
are going to push for.’

According to the survey, ‘with clear ballot language and a
well-funded, active ‘yes’ campaign, the amendment’s prospect for
passage are excellent.’

Supporters believe it will take a large campaign, along with $3
million to $4 million in funding, to get an amendment passed. The
soonest it could go on a statewide ballot is November of 2008, but
the desire is to get it passed out of the Legislature during the
current session so there’s more than a year to raise funds and
educate voters, Landwehr said.

State models

At a stakeholders’ summit hosted by the Campaign for
Conservation last Friday, representatives from New Jersey, Florida,
and Colorado discussed how conservation is funded in their states,
and offered tips to those in attendance on how to achieve success
in Minnesota.

In Florida, $3 billion in bonds over 10 years has been issued
twice. The bonds have been backed by a real estate transfer
tax.

As part of the Green Acres Program in New Jersey, voters between
1961 and 1995 approved nine bond issues, generating more than $1.4
billion for parks and open space acquisition. In 1998, voters there
approved a constitutional amendment to dedicate $98 million a year
from the existing state sales tax every year for 10 years.

In Colorado, voters approved a constitutional amendment that
created the Great Outdoors Colorado Trust Fund, which is funded by
50 percent of the proceeds from the state lottery. A separate fund,
the Conservation Trust Fund, receives 40 percent of proceeds from
the state lottery. The money is distributed to local units of
government.

Across the nation, ballot measures aimed at conservation often
are successful. Between 1994 and 2006, voters approved 76 percent
of the conservation measures before them. During that same time
period, voters in Minnesota approved 83 percent of ballot measures
in the state.

‘American voters support land conservation, even if it means
raising their taxes to do it,’ said Will Abberger, of the Trust for
Public Land.

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