The outdoors amendment

It’s not unusual that voters sometimes go to the polls and don’t know fully what they’re voting on. A letter to the editor in this morning’s Star Tribune reveals that there’s still some confusion over the sales tax increase for cultural and outdoors programs in Minnesota.

“With solid passage of the ‘MPR Tax,’ one wonders if there will be fewer pledge drives in the future,” Jay Kurtz of Rochester wrote.

MPR is not a recipient of the tax proceeds from the sales tax increase that is intended to fund outdoors and cultural programs.

The arts/outdoors amendment got very little debate, of course, because it was overshadowed by the races for president, Senate, and Congress. Local humorist James Lileks suggests we should decide what arts is before deciding who gets the cash, joking (I think) that one receipient might be “a performance artist who stands in the park swinging his arms for 168 hours to raise awareness about International Awareness Raising Day.”

In any case, as Marianne Combs and Euan Kerr pointed out last week, it will be months before the organizations see a dime.


The general consensus is that about half of the money set aside for the arts will go to the Minnesota State Arts Board. The arts board funnels money to regional arts councils across the state, who then fund arts organizations in their region. The other half is expected to go to arts education as well as the preservation of historic and cultural sites, but nothing has been determined. This past year both Theatre de la Jeune Lune and the Minnesota Center for Photography closed, citing financial troubles. (Sen. Dick Cohen) Cohen said he hopes the money will offer stability to cherished Minnesota arts organizations that might otherwise be forced to shut their doors.

Today, Gov. Pawlenty will travel the state, announcing a jobs and economic development initiative for the 2009 Legislature. With the state running a huge budget deficit, it may add more pressure to the session, when legislators check under every couch cushion for loose change. The sales tax increase is meant to supplement state budget support for the outdoors and the arts. However, the temptation may be great for lawmakers to say to both constituencies, “you’ve got yours.”

  • Bob Moffitt

    “However, the temptation may be great for lawmakers to say to both constituencies, “you’ve got yours.”

    In time of tight budgets and spending cuts, I think the arts and environment were always likely targets, Bob. Yes, the passage of the new sales tax may give “cover” to some politicians who were likely to cut arts and environmental program funding anyhow. So I don’t think it really will make much difference — except now there is a stream of funding the state legislature and governor can’t touch.

    That drives them crazy.

  • Silas

    “now there is a stream of funding the state legislature and governor can’t touch.

    That drives them crazy”

    This is the kind of thinking that drives me crazy about this amendment and dedicated funds in general. Budget year to budget year the needs of the state change. This type of thing ties the hands of the legislature at the expense of the tax payer. I would like a thinking government rather than one on autopilot.

  • bsimon

    “However, the temptation may be great for lawmakers to say to both constituencies, “you’ve got yours.” ”

    Who didn’t see that coming?