• Approved by voters in 2008, Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment created a 25-year, .375 percent sales tax that sends the revenue into four funds: the Outdoor Heritage and Clean Water funds, which receive 33 percent each; the Parks and Trails Fund, 14.25 percent; and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, 19.75 percent.
• The amendment generated more than $1 billion for the three conservation funds in its first five years, more than any other voter-approved conservation measure in the nation, according to the Trust for Public Land in Boston. However, Minnesota’s top standing could be eclipsed in November if Florida voters approve a state constitutional amendment to dedicate more than $10 billion over 20 years for land and water conservation, according to Trust officials.
• Most of the Clean Water funds designated for monitoring are allocated to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to track the quality of the state’s 12,000 or so lakes and 90,000 miles of rivers and streams in 81 major watersheds, says the MPCA’s Glenn Skuta. He said Legacy money enabled the agency to set up a 10-year rotation during which it will gather water-quality data from all 81 watersheds and some smaller waterways, which will be used in watershed improvement plans.
• Susan Schmidt, executive director of the Trust for Public Land’s Minnesota chapter, says Legacy funding “has been transformative” in the state. She said that before the amendment passed, state investments in conservation and the environment as a share of the state budget had been in sharp decline. “Now we are back on track in terms of investing in clean water, parks, trails and habitat protection just like the voters intended,” she said.
• Not everyone is on board with the Legacy approach. A dedicated sales tax is bad policy, said Mark Haveman, executive director of the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, formerly the Minnesota Taxpayers Association. “Any time you have revenues dedicated like this it reduces efforts for efficiency, raises accountability issues … and handcuffs future legislators,” Haveman said. Natural resource protection should compete with other public needs for state general fund dollars, which largely come from state sales tax revenues, he added.