Most Minnesotans favor a constitutional amendment authorizing a statewide sales-tax increase to provide more money for the outdoors, the environment and the arts, but 40 percent acknowledge they have heard nothing about the proposal's details, a Star Tribune Minnesota Poll shows.
The survey of 1,084 likely voters conducted over a three-day period ending Thursday indicated that the amendment -- which calls for a three-eighths of one percent sales-tax increase -- enjoyed widespread support in all age, income and gender groups and was also favored by both metro and outstate voters.
The poll showed that 59 percent said they planned to vote for the amendment, and 32 percent said they would vote no.
But the poll also showed that few Minnesotans have heard an explanation of what the measure would do.
Just 10 percent of those responding said they had seen or heard "a lot" about the amendment, while 49 percent said they had heard "some" or "only a little" about it and 40 percent said they had heard "nothing at all" about the plan.
"I don't know very much about this because there's so much we're trying to keep on top of with the whole political picture right now -- the election picture and the candidates and everything," said Laura Feller, a Winona resident who said she supported the amendment but was unaware it was on the Nov. 4 ballot.
"I'm in an area that is bluff [country], and I would like to see it protected and taken care of and maintained," she said. But the proposal's supporters, Feller added, "have some work to do ... they need to get the word out."
The two sides
Opponents of the amendment said the poll's findings were surprising, and appeared to show a significant shift in favor of the proposal from earlier polling. "When you actually ask a question that has a tax increase in it, I'm surprised that people are saying they would vote for it," said Phil Krinkie, president of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota. "We've got a lot more work to do.
"This is a huge tax increase," he said. "This is terrible public policy to put a ... dedication of resources like this in the [state] Constitution."
Ken Martin, campaign manager for Vote Yes, the group pushing for the amendment's passage, said that the poll reflected the campaign's own polling and that the percentage of voters who had not heard of the amendment's details was dwindling. "We're getting a sense both on the phones and [while knocking on] doors, and clearly in polling like this, that people are very supportive," he said.
"People care about the outdoors, they care about their water in this state, and they're going to do the right thing," said Martin.
Campaign heating up
The poll comes as the Vote Yes campaign, which hopes to raise as much as $5 million to campaign for the amendment, unveiled its first television ads last week and is drawing heavy financial backing from an array of outdoors, environmental and arts enthusiasts.
Opponents of the amendment, which would raise roughly $276 million annually for 25 years, argue that the proposal is another tax increase that Minnesotans cannot afford in an era of high gas prices and a struggling economy. Other critics said the measure attempts to sidestep the Legislature, which traditionally has decided how much state money to give to such causes.
Under the proposal, 33 percent of the money would go to clean water projects, another 33 percent would be distributed to game, fish and wildlife habitat endeavors, 19.75 percent would go to arts and culture projects and 14.25 percent would go toward parks and trails. A series of panels, some of which have yet to be formed, would disperse the money.
The state Department of Revenue estimates the amendment would cost an average Minnesota household $60 a year.
Supporters said they worry about signs that many voters are unaware of the amendment, especially since by law any Minnesotan who votes on Nov. 4 but leaves the amendment question blank will be counted as voting against the proposal.
Seventy-two-year-old Alice Maher, who lives near Clear Lake, said she has been following the proposal and opposes it because of the tax increase. Minnesotans, she said, need to figure out how to take care of the outdoors and the environment without tax increases or more government, she said.
"I feel our taxes in Minnesota, especially, are high enough," said Maher. "I don't think we need to add more taxes. I think we need to get people with innovative ideas."
Joseph Needham, a 21-year-old college student from Thief River Falls, said he knew little about the proposal but said the larger issue is to support the concept behind it. "I like the outdoors," he said. "I like to go camping.
"Even if it costs a little bit more money, you know, on everybody, at least we'll have forests and wildlife and things like that still around," he said.
Mike Kaszuba • 612-673-4388
HOW THE POLL WAS CONDUCTED
The Star Tribune Minnesota Poll findings are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 30-Oct. 2 with a representative sample of 1,084 likely voters, out of a total sample of 1,205 Minnesota adults, 18 years old and older. Respondents were identified as likely voters based on their voting intentions and self-reported voting history.
Interviews were conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. Results of a poll based on 1,084 interviews will vary by no more than 3.7 percentage points, plus or minus, from the overall population 95 times out of 100. Margins are larger for groups within the sample, such as Democrats and Republicans.
The poll does not include interviews with cell phone users.
Sampling error does not take into account other sources of variation inherent in public opinion surveys such as nonresponse, question wording or context effects. In addition, news events, such as the congressional rescue plan for Wall Street, may have affected opinions during the period the poll was taken. Readers can e-mail questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.