(AP) - Just in time for Saturday's fishing opener, the Minnesota Senate on Friday approved a constitutional amendment that will ask voters to approve a small increase in the state sales tax, with the money set aside to pay for protection of hunting and fishing habitats, as well as lake and river cleanup, and arts and cultural programs.
If the House of Representatives follows suit, Minnesotans would vote on the amendment in November 2008. They'd be asked to raise the state sales tax by 3/8 of 1 percent, which would generate about $291 million by fiscal year 2011.
Backers said that hunting and fishing, clean water and the arts are key facets to Minnesota's vaunted quality of life, but that they are often underfunded because the Legislature is forced to direct most state resources to more urgent priorities like education and health care.
"We have a chance to invest in the future of the land of 10,000 lakes," said Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids. "Let's save our waters, let's save our forests, let's save them for our children and grandchildren so they can use it the way that we have."
“This is something that can bring Minnesotans together. It brings vegetarians together with hunters. What is wrong with that? Nothing.”Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller
The amendment would dedicate 43 percent of the proceeds to water cleanup, 33 percent to outdoor habitat preservation and 24 percent to the arts programs.
Lawmakers have stumbled in numerous previous attempts to set aside a pot of state money specifically for outdoor programs. The amendment has grown over the years to include water cleanup and arts programs, in order to draw wider support from lawmakers.
"This is something that can bring Minnesotans together," said Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, who threw his weight behind the effort this year. "It brings vegetarians together with hunters. What is wrong with that? Nothing."
Still, the amendment nearly tripped up in its way through the Legislature again this year. Some supporters of the outdoor aspect of the amendment said that adding the arts funding would turn off some voters.
"I'm sorry to the sportsmen, because I don't think the way it's been crafted will help in getting it passed and I think you've been dealt an injustice," said Sen. Tom Neuville, R-Northfield.
Several influential Senate Democrats nearly derailed the effort because they oppose dedicating tax proceeds in the state Constitution, arguing that the Legislature should simply raise the sales tax directly instead of seeking cover from voters.
"Show the leadership that the people in this state want you to show," said Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook. "If these things are important, than put real money into them. Real money."
The amendment's House companion has some differences from the Senate version, meaning differences will likely have to be ironed out in conference committee.
Because it's a constitutional amendment, it doesn't require Gov. Tim Pawlenty's approval.
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