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Voters get it right with Land Legacy Amendment

The Outdoors
Lead Summary
Scott Rall, outdoors columnist

Last week I wrote about the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund created by constitutional amendment back in the late 1980s when the Minnesota State Lottery was begun.
It has done many good things but still funds too much research and not enough on the ground habitat and water projects for my complete satisfaction.
About 20 years ago there was another movement started to create a special fund for conservation efforts in Minnesota.
It was going to be a dedicated fund that could only be used for limited purposes and could not be raided by politicians to fund their pet projects, which always seemed to happen too often.
The dedicated funding effort struggled for many years with a guy by the name of Bob Lessard as its chief sponsor and promoter.
It finally passed in 2009 with an increase in the state’s sales tax to fund it. Minnesota’s sales tax was increased by three-eighths of 1 percent with the funds being deposited into four separate pots.
The first was a pot to do projects to benefit game fish and wildlife. The second pot was the clean water fund and does as the name suggests. The third pot was for parks and trails across the state and the smaller, but still millions, was directed to Arts and Cultural Heritage.
Initially the only pot where the funds are spent with the help and direction of Minnesota citizens was the game fish and wildlife pot.
Minnesota statute created the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. This council was critical to those who supported the amendment in order to keep the focus on important wildlife issues and not allow the legislators to hijack these dollars to other causes, which had happened over and over in the past.
The entire constitutional amendment was called the Land and Legacy Amendment. The council was made up of eight citizens and four politicians who held certain offices in state government. The House names two citizens as does the Senate.
The governor gets four picks and all members serve four-year terms. Once appointed, it is my understanding they cannot be removed by the appointing authority. A limit of eight years was enacted last session.
I was originally appointed for a two-year term by Governor Pawlenty in 2009 and later to a four-year term by Governor Dayton. Of the original members, some only had two-year terms to start, as they needed to stagger the replacements.
The fund is the biggest thing to happen to game fish and wildlife in Minnesota ever.
In Year 1, the taxes raised and allocated to this fund were $61 million. That is a huge shot in the arm for conservation in Minnesota.
The amount has increased as the economy improved from the recession of 2008 to stand today at about $120 million annually, even after the pandemic.
There are still politicians today that hate this fund and this citizens council because it takes the purse strings away from them and allows educated citizens to have a much greater say in how the money is spent.
I was once told by a politician that if I wanted a say to allocate state funds, I had better go get an election certificate. He thought citizens had no place in helping direct how their own tax money was spent, except at the ballot box.
In the earliest days of the council there were lots of bumps and ruts on the road to a bill for allocation of these funds.
Once the recommendations of the council were completed, they went to legislators who had to agree and the governor to sign in order for them to become law.
There were many attempted changes to the council recommendations in the early years, but the collective voice of sportsmen and women has tamped down the desire to do this out of concern of reprisals in the next election.
Staying in office is still the most important thing to most politicians.
The Land and Legacy amendment and the creation of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Council makes Minnesota the envy of the nation.
In a future column, I will go into some of the many great projects your sales tax dollars have funded.
Scott Rall, Worthington, is a habitat conservationist, avid hunting and fishing enthusiast and is president of Nobles County Pheasants Forever. He can be reached at or on Twitter @habitat champion.

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