New tax hits Minnesota purchases WednesdayMinnesotan’s self-imposed sale tax increase goes into effect Wednesday to help pay for clean water, improved wildlife habitat, more parks and trails and the performing arts.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune, Pine Journal
Minnesotan’s self-imposed sale tax increase goes into effect Wednesday to help pay for clean water, improved wildlife habitat, more parks and trails and the performing arts.
Supporters of the tax spent most of last year trying to rally support. Now they’re thanking voters and reminding them that Minnesotans must maintain an active roll to make sure the money is spent wisely.
“We want to remind [Minnesotans] of the great thing they did on the fourth of November 2008,” said Dave Zentner of the Izaak Walton League of America. He said the money should help pay for projects that are “part of a vision of what we want Minnesota to look like 25 years from now.”
Zentner noted that, even at the height of a major recession, Minnesotans felt compelled to protect their environment, even if it meant money out of their pockets.
At 12:01 a.m. Wednesday, Minnesota’s sales tax will go from 6.5 percent to 6.875 percent. Local taxes still are compounded on top of that, such as in Duluth, where the general sales tax rate will go from 7.5 to 7.875.
The new tax means an extra 8 cents on every $20 purchase. The Minnesota Department of Revenue said the average Minnesotan will spend about $60 more each year.
But unlike most tax increases, Minnesotans asked for this one themselves by changing the state constitution. Voters in November supported the tax hike more than any candidate on the ballot, with 1.67 million votes, a 54 percent to 46 percent victory. (By comparison, Barack Obama tallied only 1.57 million votes in the state on the way to his victory over John McCain.)
The new tax will raise about $300 million more each year, which is constitutionally dedicated to restoring and protecting clean water, restoring and protecting wetlands, forests and other wildlife habitat, bolstering parks and trails and funding arts and cultural projects. The tax expires after 25 years unless voters act again.
Minnesota lawmakers in May already decided how they would use the first year’s worth of the new tax, even though the money can’t be spent for another year. Those projects include the state’s largest forest conservation project. That project will see the state spend $36 million to buy permanent, binding easements on 187,277 acres of Blandin Paper Co. forest land in Itasca and nearby counties. Private foundations will add another $9 million, and the land will be permanently protected from development while always open to hunting and other public activities.
The new sales tax money also will cover $750,000 to match federal money to help clean up the St. Louis River estuary as part of a broader federal Great Lakes cleanup initiative.
Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, chairwoman of the House subcommittee that decided which projects should be funded with the new tax, said supporters need to be vigilant and continue to work together to make sure the state follows the mandate of last fall’s ballot.
“We need all people to stay together to deliver this vision,” Murphy said. “Our children and grandchildren are going to be the benefactors if we do this right.”