MN Voters Approve $5.5 Billion to Protect Land and Water

Saint Paul, MN, 11/5/2008: Yesterday, Minnesota voters approved the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, the largest conservation ballot measure in history, according to The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national conservation organization. At more than $5.5 billon dollars for land and water conservation, the winning measure nearly doubles the previous largest conservation ballot measure, New Jersey’s Constitutional Amendment in 1998, which dedicated $2.94 billion in sales tax to the Garden State Preservation Trust.

The historic success of the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment will increase investment in clean water, natural areas, cultural legacy, and parks and trails by about $290 million a year for 25 years. An estimated $220 million a year will protect and restore natural areas, parks, and lands vital for water quality.

“Minnesota voters are willing to pay to protect our waters and natural lands for our children and grandchildren,” said Susan Schmidt, director of The Trust for Public Land’s Minnesota Office. “They know that these lakes and natural lands play an important role in preserving our quality of life. With our natural lands diminishing, we could not afford to wait to protect the water quality of our rivers, lakes, and streams, or to conserve natural areas, parks, and habitat for fish and wildlife.”

Yesterday’s vote was one of 87 ballot measures voted on in 26 states across the nation. Voters approved 62 (71 percent) creating more than $7.3 billion in funding to protect water quality, natural areas, parks, and farmland. With these actions, new land conservation funding approved across America in 2008 totaled more than $8.4 billion in 27 states, at 71 percent success despite the current economic and fiscal crisis facing the nation. This topped the national rate of 66 percent in 2007, and was just below the 74 percent rate for 2006.

Around the country in 2008, Minnesota had one of four statewide conservation ballot questions, and New Jersey led in the total number on the ballot, at 22 conservation measures. Voters in Rhode Island, Ohio and Colorado also considered measures to dedicate funding for land and water conservation. Ohio voters approved a $400 million bond referendum to renew of the Clean Ohio fund, and in Rhode Island, 67 percent of voters said “yes” to $2.5 million for farmland and natural area preservation. In a hotly contested question in Colorado, voters decided not to close a loophole in state oil and gas taxes in the face of strong opposition from oil and gas companies.

Passage of the Minnesota measure follows a growing track record of local conservation ballot measure success in Minnesota; Minnesotans have approved 81 percent of state and local water and land conservation funding measures since 1988, higher than the national average of 76 percent. Separately on November 4, Eagan voters, with 53 percent against and 47 percent in favor, turned down a $10.25 million bond to purchase a golf course “for public facilities, recreation, and open space uses.” From 1988 to 2008, Minnesotans have passed four statewide measures to establish and rededicate the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Investments in land conservation are essential to the health of our communities. Such investments protect air and water, safeguard wildlife habitat, create critical recreation opportunities close to home, and boost local economies by stabilizing property taxes, spurring revitalization, and supporting area businesses. An economic values study of Washington County land sales from 2002 to March 2006 reports that homes within 100 feet of protected natural areas are worth over $15,000 more than homes further away.

“Tuesday’s results demonstrate sustained support among voters for new investments in land conservation, even in a very tough economic climate,” said Ernest Cook, Director of TPL’s Conservation Finance program, which helps local communities design and enact public funding measures. “Voters understand the need to invest to preserve our land and water resources for future generations and that’s just what these ballot measures will provide funding to do.”

Since 1996, TPL’s Conservation Finance Program in Minnesota has helped several statewide and local campaigns, including the statewide Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, Dakota and Washington counties, and the City of Wayzata. The Trust for Public Land provides technical assistance directly to individual communities and collaborative efforts and through its web site and workshops. The next workshop will be held in the metro area in early 2009.