Minnesota ballot measure draws attentionIf you’re a fish or wildlife official or a person with an acute interest in the outdoors, chances are your interest in politics will include not only the Nov. 4th presidential election between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, but a ballot measure in Minnesota to fund natural resources. The November ballot initiative would amend Minnesota’s constitution and dedicate a small fraction of the state sales tax to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s remaining woods, waters, wetlands and grasslands (with the side benefit of keeping hunting and fishing viable for generations to come).
By: By Babe Winkelman, The Jamestown Sun
If you’re a fish or wildlife official or a person with an acute interest in the outdoors, chances are your interest in politics will include not only the Nov. 4th presidential election between Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, but a ballot measure in Minnesota to fund natural resources.
The November ballot initiative would amend Minnesota’s constitution and dedicate a small fraction of the state sales tax to preserve and enhance Minnesota’s remaining woods, waters, wetlands and grasslands (with the side benefit of keeping hunting and fishing viable for generations to come).
Many natural-resource officials, concerned citizens and others are watching Minnesota with great anticipation. They wonder if such a measure could be passed in their states. After all, state spending on conservation, save a few states like Missouri (which has a dedicated sales tax) is chronically low.
Indeed, having tried‹and most often failed — to increase environmental funding through the legislative process, more and more states are looking for alternative ways to fund conservation projects that improve land and waters and, by extension, preserve pastimes like hunting and fishing.
And one such way, in what many consider a last resort, is through a state ballot measure that specifically earmarks more dollars into conservation.
Said one state official: “Conservation funding at the state level isn¹t a high priority for most governors or legislatures. There’s a lot of high-minded talk about it, but when push comes to shove, conservation is on the short list for cuts.”
This official went on to say that he believes citizens — from hook-and-bullet types to hardcore environmentalists — are tired of the lack of state leadership and are more willing than ever to take matters into their own hands.
In recent weeks, conservation and environmental groups across Minnesota have been working tirelessly to educate voters on the ballot measure — no easy task, particularly since the presidential election is eating up so much news coverage‹even locally.
More specifically, the ballot measure would raise the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent to pay for cleaning up the state’s impaired waters, wildlife habitat, parks, trails and the arts.
The education campaign has been difficult, even among sportsmen. In an article in the Minneapolis-based Star Tribune, only 50 percent of people who attended Game Fair, an annual event attended mostly by hardcore hunters, knew about the ballot measure.
For the record: I have a dog in this fight. I’m from Minnesota, and I want the measure to pass. My home state is in desperate need of investing in its environmental infrastructure. Water quality in the Land of Sky-blue Waters — both lakes and rivers — is declining rapidly and is on the cusp of becoming a serious public health issue. Forests lands are being sold and subdivided at alarming rate. Wetlands continue to disappear. Grasslands, too.
Still, if the measure is passed, the money must be spent wisely and with the taxpayers in mind. In short, the process must be completely transparent. Every project must be meticulously documented and accounted for. No slipshod book-keeping.
The good news is that any dollars awarded for projects will have to be approved by a citizens-legislative committee. For example, local sportsman and conservation clubs would apply for matching funds each year from the roughly $90 million that will be dedicated annually for fish and game habitat.
In other words, a citizen’s oversight group will scrutinize every project before it is approved for financing. The group must also measure on-the-ground results, to ensure the money is spent wisely. Another point that critics of the ballot measure have seized on: The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, which is embroiled in scandal right now after an oversight committee said the agency misspent $300,000 (hunters’ and anglers’ license fees) for an international game warden conference, will throw the money away.
Not so, say supporters of the ballot measure. Like all other groups, the DNR will have to apply for the funding for specific projects through the oversight committee. No special earmarks for the DNR. Average citizens — like those who are demanding more state funding for conservation‹will oversee the allocation.
Which, incidentally, averages out to about $1 a week per Minnesota family.
Watch Babe Winkelman’s “Good Fishing” and “Outdoor Secrets” television shows. Visit www.winkelman.com for air times.