Yes or No?

Have you heard? It’s two weeks until Election Day! I’ve picked who I’m voting for in all of my districts, for senate, and for president. Chances are you have too.

But, there’s another line on the ballot: Yes or No?

The question, of course, is whether to amend the state constitution to include the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy amendment. This amendment would create a 3/8 of one percent sales tax (38 cents per 100 dollars), all of which would go to the arts and the outdoors (about 2/5 to the arts and 3/5 to the outdoors). That, according to detractors, could be as much as 11 billion dollars over the course of the amendment’s 25-year lifespan. Should I Vote No?

It’s two weeks out, and I’m still undecided on this question.

So, where’s the problem? The two biggest aspects of Minnesota’s astronomical quality of life are our Edenesque lakes, forests, rivers, and prairies, and our “new New York” arts scene (music, visual arts, theater, film, dance, lit, we have it all). Minnesota is the perfect state because of these two things specifically. Surely these things deserve only the cushiest of budgets!

I have two hesitations. But before I get to those, let me totally debunk what both the Star Tribune and the Pioneer Press have said against this amendment.

The Pioneer Press says,

We cannot see the future and we do not know what challenges Minnesota will face. Locking in spending through the state Constitution, as this proposal does, reduces the state’s ability to respond to those unknown problems.

And the Star Tribune says,

Moving Minnesota toward a system of constitutional amendments to formulate funding would lock legislators and the governor into budgetary decisions that they are elected — and paid — to make. And with an anticipated recession and the resulting revenue shortfall expected over the next biennium, it will be more important than ever for elected officials to make the tough calls.

Should I Vote Yes?This is just dumb. The state budget will be the same if this amendment passes or fails. This amendment includes a tax increase, not a tax diversion; these arguments make it sound like it’s a tax diversion. Your pie will be the same size, and the cuts you make when times get really bad will be no different. It’s not like you’d have had those millions of dollars each year to put somewhere else. This amendment puts extra money aside for just this reason.

But, like I said. I’m still not sure. Here are my two problems: precedent and accountability.

I was not here in 2006 to vote on the transportation amendment. Had I been, I would have voted a very vigorous “No!” because the constitution is the absolute wrong place for that kind of legislation. But it’s in there now. So, some might say the precedent has already been set, that we have, in fact, re-imaged our constitution to be a place where we not only describe the functions of our government and the rights of our people, but our spending priorities as well. This is not exactly the case. Yet. If we vote “Yes” this year, I believe this re-imaging will be locked in place for quite a while, and we can expect to see something come down the line from the education people, the health care people, and who knows, maybe the State Mime Laureate people. (As an aside: Hey, maybe that’s not such a bad thing. But maybe it is.)

The other question is one of accountability. Maybe it’s not much money per person, but this is still tax money we’re talking about. I have not yet seen any mechanism for how this money will be spent accountably. What if, ten years from now, $300 million goes to bulldoze 100 acres of forest to build a large warehouse that will house the world’s first indoor Outdoor Experience? I want an accountable (i.e. elected or appointed by elected officials) advisory committee to say “Hell no! That’s crazy!”

I will leave it at that. I was hoping writing this post would help me sort things out in my mind. It has not. I still really want to pay 3/8 of one cent per dollar I spend on items and have that go to the best parts about the state that I love. I also want it the hell out of the constitution.

Please, in the comments section, convince me!

(And no, I can’t pussy out and abstain. That’s the same as a “No” vote.)

4 Comments so far

  1. Matthew K (callipygianking) on October 21st, 2008 @ 5:59 pm

    The state constitution is no place for determining any taxing or spending policy beyond "the budget must be balanced" (which is in the state constitution). I’m in agreement with the Strib that such matters as creating taxes and doling out dollars are something that we should expect our elected officials to look at with a level head every year and make a decision based on what’s needed, not to just brainlessly collect and spend based on preset levels required by a burdened state constitution.

  2. Aaron (s4xton) on October 21st, 2008 @ 7:17 pm

    Do we need what’s wrapped up in the amendment? I think, absolutely. Is a constitutional amendment the right way to do it? I don’t think it is.

  3. Erica M (ericam) on October 22nd, 2008 @ 9:03 am

    Great post, Art.

    My position is the same: Yes, the money would be nice and I’m all for funding those things, but a constitutional amendment is a completely inappropriate way to do that.

    I will be voting No.

  4. johnjohnson on October 29th, 2008 @ 10:28 pm

    I like Bud Grant as a football coach but I disagree with his support for this measure. You should all vote NO on the proposed 3/8 cent sales tax increase, this money is NOT NEEDED!! Our environment is doing just fine!!! Only 6% of every dollar currently spent on the environment actually touches the land, the rest is wasted in St. Paul!!! Vote NO!!!!

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