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Tax hike OK to environmentalists

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ST. PAUL - Minnesotans will accept a tax increase to protect their natural resources, environmentalists rallying Wednesday in the Capitol said.

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"The legacy that we leave for our future generations is the most important thing," John Doberstein of Duluth said.

Added Doberstein: Cleaning up the state's water - as required by federal law - is a public priority.

Duane Ninneman of Ortonville, who works in Montevideo, said clean energy also is a priority.

He and about 200 others at the rally agreed a sales tax increase is an answer to cleaning up the environment.

Proposals floating around the Legislature would increase sales taxes by 0.25 percent or more to provide more funds for the arts, outdoors programs and cleaning the water. About $100 million would be available annually in each category under a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis.

The proposal calls for a constitutional amendment to increase the sales tax and dedicate it to the three uses.

Ninneman said he can accept spending some of the money on the arts because a coalition is needed to pass the proposal. However, many outdoors enthusiasts are not happy that it appears including the arts is the only way to pass the amendment.

Environmentalists do not agree on how much money should be spent.

Ninneman said the state probably cannot spend more than $100 million a year to clean rivers and streams. Doberstein said more is needed, but the $100 million figure is a compromise.

To convince the public to support the constitutional amendment, conservationists such as those who gathered Wednesday need to spread the word, Ninneman said.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty said in a Wednesday conference call that he has proposed spending at least $30 million from the general fund for water cleanup efforts over the next two years.

That is outside any revenue generated from a possible dedicated funding constitutional amendment.

Over time, Pawlenty said, more water cleanup funding will be needed, but state agencies need time to "meaningfully absorb and deploy the money."

Legislators are off to a good start this year, Executive Director Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership told those at the rally. Lawmakers already have approved a bill - which Pawlenty is to sign today - to increase renewable energy sources such as wind. They also passed a measure to restrict removal of water from the Great Lakes.

It is important to continue environmental work, Duluth Mayor Herb Bergson said. For instance, a virus found in ship bilges is threatening the Great Lakes. And carp that jump out of the water are spreading toward Minnesota.

"Scary stuff," Bergson said.

Cleaning the water is not just an environmental cause in many Minnesota communities. Bergson said in Duluth, for instance, tourism is important and the biggest tourist attraction is the Lake Walk.

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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