For Minnesota Legacy Amendment results, we need extra vigilancePublished 11:38am Friday, December 16, 2011
Minnesota’s watchdog is watching our Legacy Amendment funds. Using the “special responsibility and special tools” of his office, Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles says that he and his staff will remain vigilant in oversight of the funds that protect our outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and arts and culture.
The sales tax increase of three-eighths of 1 percent, voted by Minnesotans deep in the recession in 2008, is projected to have generated $7 billion-plus by the time it expires in 2034.
With 23 years to go, and so many precious taxpayer dollars at stake, it is imperative that Nobles and his staff remain dedicated to oversight and accountability — and that elected officials and the rest of us pay attention.
On these pages, we opposed the amendment in 2008, reasoning that taxing, spending and setting priorities are the job of the Legislature; that “budgeting by constitutional amendment” is generally a bad idea; and that the mix of causes in the amendment included some that just aren’t urgent enough to warrant 25 years of a regressive tax increase.
Supporters argued that there was no other practical way to direct enough money toward priority efforts — clean water and conservation — to get the job done. Their argument resonated with Minnesotans; nearly 60 percent of those who went to the polls in that election favored the amendment.
Recently, Nobles’ office released the most comprehensive report card on the amendment, an early opportunity to set the bar for the standards and measurements needed to be sure voters get what they’re paying for.
Nobles, appointed by the bipartisan Legislative Audit Commission and serving since 1983, told us his office focuses primarily on state agencies and programs, while the elected state auditor is responsible for monitoring local government finances.
His agency’s work includes audits of systems and processes, such as the annual examination of the state’s finances, as well investigations, for example, its 2009 report on the Metro Gang Strike Force. The office has subpoena power, and interviews can take place under oath.
In our recent conversation about the Legacy Amendment, Nobles reiterated his ongoing concerns.
First is understanding amendment language that says funds will “supplement, not substitute,” for traditional sources of funding. Nobles said it is unclear what constitutes a “traditional” source of funding. …
Many Minnesotans voted for the Legacy Amendment because they care about clean water.
In Minnesota, “it defines us,” Nobles said. Measuring our clean-water results, however, will be complicated by a number of factors, including administration by overlapping state agencies and jurisdictions.
As Nobles says, it will take a lot of pressure on state government to achieve the desired outcomes.
Faced with tough times and tight budgets, we’re counting on the legislative auditor and his staff to keep the pressure on.
— St. Paul Pioneer Press