Amending for conservation

The state should pass a dedicated funding bill for the environment.

This legislative session, hunters, anglers and environmentalists have been descending on the Capitol. Their cause: a constitutional amendment that would set aside dedicated funding for conserving and improving the state’s natural resources and wildlife habitats. Dedicated funding amendments guarantee a certain amount of the state budget is directed at specific areas. You’ll recall one was on the ballot (and passed) last session regarding transportation funding. Dedicated funding means that the money that might be used for conservation when the state is flush with cash can’t be plundered to make up for lost revenue in other areas, as has been the case in recent years during budget shortfalls.

The state Legislature should pass this amendment and put it on the ballot for approval in 2008. Conservation funding is at its lowest level in 30 years, and much of the state’s $9 billion tourism industry can be credited to the rivers, lakes, forests and natural beauty with which Minnesota has been endowed. It’s the least we can do to keep them in the best shape possible.

Right now, each chamber has a slightly different proposal. Both versions call for raising the state sales tax three-eighths of one percent, which would bring in about $300 million every year. We support the language in the House of Representatives’ version, but not the Senate’s. The Senate bill earmarks 25 percent of the dedicated funding for cultural heritage, meaning funding for the arts, while the House bill sets arts funding at 10 percent. We need increased funding for the arts, and the amount outlined in the House bill is appropriate, but the reality is that this money would be used primarily by the metro area. The 25 percent in the Senate version too heavily skews this bill in favor of the Twin Cities. The 10 percent proposed by the House is not only fairer to taxpayers in greater Minnesota, but also better serves the goal of this measure: more funding to protect the environment and wildlife habitats.

It is not a good idea to budget through the constitution, but if we want future generations to be able to enjoy our state’s natural heritage, this amendment can guarantee it.