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The Legislature and the Constitution

March 28, 2012
By Ted Rowe , Marshall Independent

Just four years ago, the citizens of Minnesota voted to increase taxes on themselves to support what are now known as four funds, together loosely called the legacy funds. The four funds are The State Parks & Trails Fund, The Outdoor Heritage Fund, The Clean Water Fund, and the Cultural Heritage Fund. The total amount of money they get to split is about $240 to $250 million each year. That $240-$250 million is what is raised by the three-eighths of one percent increase in sales taxes that began July 1, 2009.

The money raised is split with 14.25 percent going to State Parks & Trails, 33 percent to Outdoor Heritage, 33 percent to Clean Water and 19.75 percent to Cultural Heritage. That means about $38 million each year to State Parks & Trails and this past week, it was reported that there is a squabble over how that money is spent. Surprise! Surprise! And of course the money that goes to the other funds also had and has some controversies as well.

The metro area folks say they should get more of the $38 million than they have been getting. Their claim is that they contribute more than 60 percent of the tax money, but get back only about 40 percent for "their" Parks and Trails. Further, they claim four times more visitors to their Parks and Trails than non-metro Parks and Trails.

What is seldom mentioned and may not even be known is exactly how much is contributed by the non-metro population to those taxes. Just because 60 percent of the tax money is collected in the metro, it is not a good indicator of who actually pays the taxes. We who live in the non-metro area probably pay quite a bit in sales taxes in the metro area. For example, if we want a non-GM, non-Ford, non-Chrysler vehicle, they are generally not available locally so we end up paying sales taxes on such a vehicle in the metro area. Then there are many sales taxes and other taxes that we non-metro area folks pay in the metro area when we are in the Twin Cities for various events not available in our area. Come on you metro folks, think about us now and then - we obviously pay more to enjoy things in your venue than you do in ours even though it has also been reported that 50 percent of the visitors to state parks are from the metro area.

Just to tack on another bit: It turns out that 42 percent of the Parks & Trails Fund went to metro regional parks while only 20 percent went to non-DNR (Dept. of Natural Resources) Parks & Trails meaning more than 66 percent was what they got when making that kind of comparison - the other 38 percent, incidentally, went direct to the DNR.


A bit of a disclaimer of sorts: Back in 2008, I expressed my opposition to the Legacy Amendment. I saw no good reason to add that specific tax to Minnesota's State Constitution. I thought then and still do think that the Legislature abandoned its job by supporting that on the ballot. Unfortunately, we seem to be about to again take something that the Legislature should handle and put it in the constitution.

While there may be several such constitutional amendments to consider, the one that I am opposed to putting on the ballot at this time is the current battle over voter ID. If we had lots of voter fraud in Minnesota, I might be more inclined to favor such a measure, albeit after proper consideration of the consequences. There are consequences that have not been thought through at this time that worry me.

Consider a citizen who moves from the north side of Marshall to the southwest side of Marshall. Will that person be able to vote? The chance of getting a government issued, picture ID with the proper residential address in time to take to the polls might be difficult depending on timelines. Of course with such a short time-line, the citizen could possibly vote in the ward where the address on the old ID is, but is that the appropriate spot?

If that same person who had made a recent move is allowed to cast a provisional ballot - one that is kept separate until verification can occur, a couple of questions arise. One is timeliness. Another is cost of counting those ballots separately and then bringing them into the final count. Lori Sturdevant of the Star Tribune attributed Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie as saying that same day registrations of about a half million voters would likely result in provisional ballots and further that in states that use provisional ballots about a third of the ballots go uncounted in an election.

Most of us probably have government issued, photo IDs so there would not be a problem for us. However, there are many who do not have such IDs available at present. So there will be a cost that the state will have to absorb for that. Such an ID would likely need to be renewed just like our current driver's license requires renewing more cost, more bureaucracy needed to administer. Now, some may think everyone over 18 probably has a driver's license. Not so! Many who have medical conditions cannot drive.

My own mother never had a driver's license, not because of any physical problem, but she was a person who used public transportation in a city that had good public transportation.

Let's take a little more time to think this through. If the Legislature experiments by passing legislation, that can more easily be changed than if we make a change to the Minnesota State Constitution.

Until next time: Oh, Fiddlesticks!



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