Fresh off a chaotic ending to the Legislature that centered on the Legacy Amendment, a coalition of groups said Thursday that they will work to repeal the specialized fund that funnels money to the outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and arts and cultural heritage.
"I think the voters were hoodwinked," said Andy Cilek, president of the Minnesota Voters Alliance, which is joining forces with the North Star Tea Party Patriots and the Northern Liberty Alliance on a repeal campaign. "Most people didn't even know it was a tax," he said, and were misled into believing they were simply voting to support programs for the outdoors and the arts.
Republican legislators have also been critical of the program, although it was unclear Thursday how many would be willing to join the repeal effort.
Since its passage by voters in 2008, the Legacy constitutional amendment yearly raises hundreds of millions of dollars through a state sales tax increase that will be in effect until 2034. Supporters hailed the amendment as a way to make sure that areas critical to Minnesota's quality of life would have a steady source of money.
The repeal campaign came three days after the Minnesota House, in the final minutes of the session, failed to pass legislation that would have appropriated $450 million in Legacy funds over the next two years. Legislators wrangled over whether the money was simply being used by state agencies to supplant budget cuts, and whether a key Legacy advisory body was being exempted from the state's open meeting law. The House adjourned without voting, leaving Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, the chief House author of the Legacy funding bill, sitting dejectedly in his chair.
"It was almost like a food fight," said Rep. Mark Buesgens, R-Jordan, who has introduced legislation to repeal the amendment, and has joined the effort that would ask voters to reconsider it.
This year's Legacy spending recommendations included everything from St. Paul's Como Zoo, the Minnesota Digital Library and a Fall Lake veterans camp to phosphorus reduction grants, a St. Louis River/Duluth Harbor cleanup and improvements to a northeastern Minnesota sharp-tail grouse habitat.
But Republicans have been highly critical of Legacy money this year, taking aim at funds given to author Neil Gaiman for a speaking appearance and also to Minnesota Public Radio.
Having just endured an emotional vote to place an amendment to ban gay marriage on the 2012 ballot, some Republicans were tepid Thursday about mounting a campaign to put a Legacy Amendment question on the same ballot. Others said that the relatively little-known groups behind the effort face long odds.
Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, whom the coalition claimed as an ally, said Thursday that while he opposed Legacy funding beyond outdoors projects, he had not been contacted by the groups and had not joined their campaign.
"I don't know [if] that's a big enough of a priority for me," said Sen. Dave Thompson, R-Lakeville, who said he opposes the Legacy Amendment.
Sen. Dick Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, a major backer of the amendment, said the repeal campaign does not seem to have widespread backing. "I'd be surprised if this has much legs," he said. "How many members does the North Star Tea Party have and how much money do they have?
Ken Martin, the campaign manager for Vote Yes, the lobbying group that in 2008 helped pass the amendment, said that despite some problems, most Minnesotans still support earmarking state sales-tax money for the outdoors and the arts.
"There's been a lot of universal acclaim from people on the right and on the left," said Martin, now chairman of the state DFL Party. He said that if Minnesotans voted on the amendment again "we would have the same, exact results."
But Cilek said his group, which also pushed for passage of photo ID legislation for voters, reflects a growing dissatisfaction with how and where Legacy money is being spent.
"We got families that can't even afford to put food in the fridge," Cilek said.
Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673