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Lawmakers attempting to play straight with legacy proceeds

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ST. PAUL -- It is temping to use sales tax money to plug a nearly $1 billion deficit, but arts and outdoors groups who are getting the money say lawmakers are trying to play by the rules. With a $5 billion budget deficit projected for the upcoming biennium, those organizations say they expect th-eir oversight has just begun.

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The clean water, land and legacy constituti-onal amen-dment voters app-roved in 2008 forbids funds from a sales tax hike de-dicated to outdoors and arts causes from replacing "traditional sources of funding for these purposes."

Outdoors cuts so far "seem to be proportional overall to cuts in other agencies," said Dave Dempsey of Conservation Minnesota.

After Pawlenty's line-item vetoes to the public works funding bill took out more non-conservation projects than conservation-related ones, the percentage of dollars dedicated to outdoor projects was even higher than typically seen over the last decade, he said.

But a study the organization conducted concluded that when the budget gap grows starting next year "the governor and Legislature will be seriously challenged to ensure that reductions to conservation agencies are proportionate and that legacy funds are not used to backfill cuts."

The group saw warning signs this year, too, Dempsey said, including Pawlenty's original 2010 proposed budget cut to the Natural Resources Fund and Environmental Fund.

Arts and culture organizations also are watching, and not happy with all they see.

The Minnesota Citizens for the Arts disagrees with a Pawlenty proposal that would decrease funding to the Minnesota State Arts Board, eventually turning it into a nonprofit.

"We would view that as an unconstitutional supplanting," said Executive Director Sheila Smith, adding that the Legislature doesn't seem to have an appetite for that move.

Smith said lawmakers thus far have kept proposed cuts in roughly the same range as with other agencies.

Lawmakers say they understand the concerns, though some debate whether the amendment applies public works projects or just operating budgets.

Tellijohn reports for Forum Communications Co.

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