A "No'' vote on state referendum

  • Updated: November 3, 2008 - 4:44 PM

Funding by amendment circumvents representative democracy.

There will be plenty of politicians on the ballot when Minnesota voters go to the polls Nov. 4, but the fate of a proposed amendment to the state Constitution may have more of an impact on how they will govern in the years ahead than any of their campaign promises.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment would increase the sales tax three-eighths of 1 percent beginning in July and lasting 25 years. It would raise an estimated $271 million annually for clean water projects (33 percent of the funds); game, fish and wildlife habitat (33 percent); arts and cultural projects (19.75 percent); and parks and trails (14.25 percent). And it would cost the average Minnesota household about $56 a year.

Investing in preserving and protecting these essential resources has merit. But passing a constitutional amendment that dedicates funding subverts another of our valuable assets: good governance, via representative democracy. Accordingly, the Star Tribune votes "No'' on the referendum.

Moving Minnesota toward a system of constitutional amendments to formulate funding would lock legislators and the governor into budgetary decisions that they are elected -- and paid -- to make. And with an anticipated recession and the resulting revenue shortfall expected over the next biennium, it will be more important than ever for elected officials to make the tough calls.

If the amendment is successful, it increases the likelihood that other worthy causes will line up to try to circumvent the legislative process and appeal directly for funding. This could result in the kind of government gridlock experienced in states such as California. And it would give elected officials less flexibility to address budgetary challenges in areas such as education and public safety.

The Legislature had to approve the amendment being placed on the ballot. That shows that members of both parties recognize the merits of the funding goals. Indeed, for a state whose name derives from the Dakota word for sky-tinted water and whose license plate boasts 10,000 lakes, we certainly seem to be blasé about protecting our natural resources. Recent estimates suggest that 40 percent of state waters do not meet federal water-quality standards, and only about 16 percent of the bodies of water in the state have been tested.

If the governor and legislators believe Minnesota's water quality -- as well as the other projects the amendment would fund -- is worthy of increased funding, let them make those decisions at the Capitol. Conversely, if they agree on the goals but find new fees or taxes too toxic, they will have to live with that choice. Either way, they ultimately will have to face the voters.

A "No" vote may delay implementation of the amendment's objectives, but it doesn't kill them. Minnesotans should preserve and protect the representative model of governing. And those who support the amendment's goals should go to work appealing to and electing leaders who will preserve and protect the state's natural and artistic resources.

  • THE AMENDMENT

    "Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to dedicate funding to protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eighths of one percent on taxable sales until the year 2034?''

    •••

    To read Minnesota Environmental Partnership executive director Steve Morse's Oct. 5 commentary supporting the Legacy Amendment and Civic Caucus Chairman Verne C. Johnson and coordinator Paul Gilje's commentary opposing it, go to tinyurl.com/6qajl3.

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