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At Issue: Leaving a legacy

Published (2/4/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Act collected more than $229.9 million in sales tax receipts during 2010, its first fiscal year.

Approved by voters in 2008, the constitutional amendment allows for a three-eighths of one percent increase in the sales tax to be appropriated annually until 2034, divided into four pots: Outdoor Heritage Fund, Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, Clean Water Fund, and the Parks and Trails Fund.

So what did Minnesotans get for their Legacy tax dollars?

Outdoor Heritage Fund

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council and other fund administrators developed a 25-year framework for using the Legacy funds.

“So the concept is if you find a program that is achieving the objectives that you have as a council, invest in that over and over and over again so that you achieve those objectives after 25 years,” said LSOHC Executive Director Bill Becker to the House Legacy Funding Division Jan. 25.

So far, 42 Outdoor Heritage projects received appropriations, including acquiring new land for conservation.

Among the outcomes, $34 million was added to $9 million in private funds to purchase a permanent conservation easement on 187,876 acres of the Blandin industrial forest land near Grand Rapids.

“That property probably would never have been acquired, but for the Legacy dollars,” Conservation Minnesota government relations associate John Tuma said. “When we look at that effort, it will be akin to the Vermilion State Park or the Boundary Waters. It’s that significant.”

Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

Projects funded by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund will be showcased during community events in several cities during Legacy Destination Weekends. Alexandria and Glenwood will be showcased Feb 11-13, offering a Polar Plunge, minnow-eating contest, a wine and chocolate tasting, candlelight skiing, guided tours of the Ann Bickle Heritage House and live theater. Future showcases include: St. Paul, Crookston, Bemidji, Lanesboro, Winona, Rochester, Park Rapids, Fergus Falls and Cook County.

“Great things in both the outdoors and the arts are happening in every corner of the state because of the Legacy Amendment and we want Minnesotans to know how they can participate,” said Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.

The Minnesota History Coalition was formed after passage of the Legacy Amendment. The coalition held town hall meetings and presented its recommendations to the Legislature for appropriating 19.75 percent of the overall Legacy funds.

The Minnesota Historical Society received $22 million, which it divided into grants, programs, projects, exhibits, archaeological surveys and a digital library. MHS awarded 474 grants to 343 organizations and all 87 counties benefitted from the ACHF funds.

The money helped train more than 5,000 history and social studies teachers. And more than 100,000 students directly benefitted from offerings funded in part by the Legacy funds, said MHS Director Michael Fox.

Another funded project is helping to preserve the Dakota language, indigenous to Minnesota. Only eight people are believed to know the nearly extinct oral language, according to Annamarie Hill-Kleinhan, executive director of the Indian Affairs Council.

When Mark Ranum, a professional library and non-profit consultant, told members about a Legacy-funded program that paid a Minnesota book author $45,000 to speak at an Author Expo attended by 500 people, some members expressed their dissatisfaction.

Rep. Joyce Peppin (R-Rogers) said she finds the fee paid “utterly offensive.” Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) and Division Chairman Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City) asked for an accounting of the amount the seven authors were paid.

Clean Water Fund

The Pollution Control Agency monitors water bodies, while the Board of Water and Soil Resources takes the PCA assessments and implements on-the-ground projects. More than $18 million in Legacy funds was added to clean up Minnesota’s streams, lakes, watersheds and groundwater.

Flood control is another mission. Water impoundment structures are being installed for the Zumbro River in Minneola Township and Goodhue County. Previous floods caused loss of life and damage to private and public property. Eight impoundment structures are expected to reduce flooding and to prevent soil erosion, according to BWSR.

Parks and Trails Fund

One strategy of the 25-year Parks and Trails Fund plan is to connect more residents with nature. Some of the ways included hiring 34 naturalists, providing camping workshops, and offering free use of equipment, such as fishing poles, binoculars and GPS units for geocaching.

The DNR also restored native plants on nearly 1,400 acres of state park land at an accelerated rate of 71 percent, fulfilling another strategy to better manage natural resources at a faster rate than in the past.

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