Lawmakers at standstill over outdoors, arts money

Wild turkey
A wild turkey.
Photo by Dean Elsen, courtesy of USDA Forest Service

Six months after voters approved a 3/8 cent sales tax increase to fund environmental and arts projects, lawmakers are deadlocked over how to spend the money.

A legislative conference committee adjourned early this morning with little progress towards an agreement on handing out $234 million in new sales tax proceeds. Lawmakers are sharply divided over what conditions to attach to the money.

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, suggested that House members might put off a decision and hold hearings around the state over the summer. She said the public may have more to say on the spending for outdoors projects, clean water, parks and trails and the arts.

"The senators that have interests in those, and making the promise of the consitutional amendment a legacy, together they would go out and listen to the people and come together with a plan," Murphy said.

Hunters and anglers say the House plan favors native species and environmental projects, at the expense of improving habitat for common game and fish.

"This language has really created hardening of the lines between folks that support habitat work and folks that support biodiversity issues," said Dave Schad, fish and wildlife director for the state Department of Natural Resources.

The Senate version of the bill is less restrictive, and defers to spending suggested by a special state panel. Gov. Pawlenty sent lawmakers a letter yesterday opposing the House restrictions.

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