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Accountability for new sales tax

Published (3/13/2009)
By Sue Hegarty
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An Office of Accountability may be established to track revenues and expenditures generated by the Outdoor Heritage Legacy Act, the three-eighths of 1 percent dedicated sales tax that is to be collected beginning July 1.

HF1086, sponsored by Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls), would require the office to create an Internet site where the public could view revenues and expenditures from all four accounts in the act. The House Environment Policy and Oversight Committee approved the bill as amended March 10 and referred it to the House Finance Committee.

A companion, SF995, sponsored by Sen. Ellen Anderson (DFL-St. Paul), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Rep. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley), the committee chairman, noted that only three of the four funds receiving the tax revenue were written into the bill. He successfully amended it to include the Arts and Cultural Heritage fund. The other three include the Clean Water Fund, Parks and Trails Fund and the Lessard Outdoor Heritage Council.

Some of the provisions of the bill require:

• all money be spent in Minnesota;

• recipients display a sign acknowledging that the funds were used from the act; and

• the Legislative Coordinating Commission to replace the Department of Natural Resources as administrative support for the council, a 12-member board that will decide how to spend 33 percent of the tax revenue.

“I think it’s a good bill,” said Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar). “We do need to have some way to coordinate all this and make sure that everyone is utilizing the funding appropriately.”

Lance Ness, president of the Fish & Wildlife Legislative Alliance, said he has concerns about expanding the administrative arm for the funds.

“With me, (the interest groups) weighed in on their thoughts that this money should be going on the ground and less used for administration,” added Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings).

Wagenius said she had not heard from interest groups, but “we want Minnesotans to know that we are spending their money as wisely as we can. I think we all want them to be able to see what they’re getting for their dollar,” she said.

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