Campaigns spring up on both sides of amendment

'Vote Yes' campaign
Campaign manager Ken Martin stands outside the Vote Yes Minnesota office in St. Paul.
MPR Photo/Tim Pugmire

In the coming weeks, Minnesotans will start to see and hear another election-year message surfacing amid a steady stream of presidential and U.S. Senate ads.

The Vote Yes Minnesota campaign has actually been underway for several months, but organizers are planning to raise their visibility significantly heading toward Election Day through radio, television and print advertising.

Ken Martin, the director of the statewide campaign, said a coalition of 300 groups is now pushing for the dedicated funding measure that's been in the works for 10 years. "We've been able to bring people from all walks of life and all interests together to say enough is enough." Martin said. "It's time that the state of Minnesota and its citizens step up to the plate and fund the things we care about here."

Martin said the campaign is educating voters about the ballot question that would amend the state constitution and raise the state sales tax by 3/8 of 1 percent for 25 years.

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The new revenue would be dedicated to the protection and improvement of drinking water, wetlands, prairies, forests, groundwater, lakes, rivers, streams, parks and trails, as well as fish, game, and wildlife habitat. The amendment also dedicates funding for the preservation of the state's arts and cultural heritage.

"It's time that the state of Minnesota and its citizens step up to the plate and fund the things we care about here."

In Minnesota, a constitutional amendment passes only if a majority of all the voters in a given election vote in favor. Ballots left blank end up counting as "no" votes.

The past six amendments have passed. But Martin said his biggest concern is voters who skip over the ballot question.

"It's people who are supportive who go in, they're energized by the presidential race for instance, they go in and vote for that and turn around and leave," Martion said. "And unfortunately they forget to vote on this amendment, even though they're supportive of it."

Martin said the Vote Yes campaign has already raised more than $3 million from groups and individuals and will likely spend up to $5 million by election day.

Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership said his organization donated $25,000 to the campaign and is helping spread the word to voters. Morse described the constitutional amendment as a one-shot opportunity to invest in state resources.

"I'm totally convinced that this can pass and it will pass," Morse said. "I believe the public is with us on this, so I suspect it will pass. If it doesn't pass, we'll have to sort that out."

Defeat might seem unlikely to dedicated supporters, but some opponents are working just as hard to make sure the ballot question fails.

Phil Krinkie of the Taxpayers League of Minnesota said the state constitution should not be used to increase taxes and benefit special interests.

"There are a lot of things that are very worthwhile that would be funded with this money," Krinkie said. "But that is the purpose and the responsibility of the Legislature, to allocate state resources, not to have a ballot question which predetermines how the money will be spent and how it would be divided."

Krinkie said the Taxpayer's League of Minnesota plans to buy yard signs and radio ads for its vote no campaign. But he said the total spending will pale in comparison to the vote yes effort.

Meanwhile, officials with the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce have announced that they too oppose the constitutional amendment. They say the proposal is poor budget policy and a significant business tax increase.