Legislative Auditor James Nobles
ST. PAUL, Minn. - The sales tax created by the Legacy Amendment will generate at least $580 million in for government agencies and nonprofits in the next two-year budget cycle.
Legislative Auditor James Nobles urged lawmakers to keep close tabs on Legacy Amendment spending. The amendment added a three-eighths percent sales tax -- or three/eighths of a penny per dollar spent -- to support the outdoors, environment and the arts.
It created a stream of funding that will end after 25 years, which is one of the reasons lawmakers prefer special projects over ongoing programs.
Nobles said his staff is ready and willing to investigate questionable spending.
"What we can offer you is the ability to send staff deep in to the organizations that receive this money," Nobles told members of the House committee responsible for approving how the money is spent.
"We have that authority in statute. We have that responsibility."
Nobles raised several issues in a 2011 report examining how the spending decisions were made, and which types of governmental entities and private nonprofits were receiving that sales tax money.
One continued sticking point, he told lawmakers, is confusion over what constitutes an existing program and what can be defined as a new one. The constitutional amendment, approved by voters in 2008, dictated that the money could not be used to fill in holes left my regular budget cuts.
"The voters passed this authorization to tax themselves to do things above and beyond what were already being done," Nobles explained Tuesday, during testimony to the Legacy Committee, which met for the first time since Democrats regained control of the House.
"This was not to simply be another pot of money to support the general operations of state government. And that creates tension."
The amendment, by design, split the sales tax proceeds four ways, as follows:
- Outdoor Heritage Fund - 33 percent
- Clean Water Fund - 33 percent
- Parks & Trails Fund - 14.25 percent
- Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund - 19.75 percent
Each of those funds has a board that wades through requests for money, and forwards those to the legislature, where they appear as appropriations.
The appropriations for the FY 2014-2015 are as follows:
- Clean Water - $191 million
- Parks and Trails - $83 million
- Outdoor Heritage - $192 million
- Arts and Cultural Heritage - $113 million
And while deciding how to spend new revenue may seem like an easier job than finding places to cut back, Nobles pointed out that the competition for that money is very intense.
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