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Former Minnesota Viking coach Bud Grant jokes with fans before an appearance in support of the Minnesota Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment rally Wednesday in East Grand Forks. Herald photo by John Stennes.

In East Grand Forks, Bud Grant makes pitch for Clean Water Land and Legacy amendment

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Bud Grant could have been hunting waterfowl in northwestern North Dakota.

Instead, the legendary Minnesota Vikings coach was in the East Grand Forks Cabela's store Wednesday afternoon with a group of outdoors advocates asking people to "Vote Yes" on the Clean Water Land and Legacy Amendment.

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About 40 people gathered near the front of the store to hear Grant, along with outdoors TV personality Ron Schara and representatives from conservation groups such as Pheasants Forever, Ducks Unlimited and the Minnesota Deer Hunters Association talk about the amendment and why it's necessary.

The measure, which Minnesota voters will decide Tuesday, would approve a three-eighths of 1 percent increase in the state sales tax, generating about $300 million annually for the next 25 years, the life of the amendment.

Proceeds would fund fish and wildlife habitat, clean waters, parks and trails and the arts.

If approved, the amendment would add about 4 cents to every $10 purchase. That's a small price, Grant said, for preserving the outdoors opportunities Minnesotans take for granted.

"We've got to have the funds," Grant, 81, said. "I can't express enough the importance that we vote Tuesday and vote yes. If we don't, I'm afraid we'll be headed down a slippery slope and be like Europe."

A state, in other words, where hunting, fishing and access to the outdoors only are available to the rich.

Bottom line, Grant said, is the Minnesota Legislature hasn't provided the level of funding necessary for the state to keep pace with the demand on its resources.

"We've got to do something. That's why I'm here," Grant said. "I think we're on a down cycle unless we do something. I've enjoyed the outdoors so much I hate to see it gradually erode."

Statewide swing

Wednesday's stop was part of a two-day tour Grant and other measure supporters were making across Minnesota to promote dedicated funding. They started the day in Duluth, making stops in Bemidji and East Grand Forks before heading to Moorhead for a 4 p.m. appearance in Davy Memorial Park.

Schara, longtime outdoors communicator and host of "Minnesota Bound," said state residents might be asking why they have to further tax themselves when they're already generous with tax dollars.

The reason, Schara said, is 70 percent of the state's tax dollars go to education and social programs. On a pie chart, the share allocated to natural resources wouldn't amount to a sliver.

"For as long as I've been covering outdoors, natural resources programs have been underfunded," Schara said. "How much do we spend on natural resources? The answer is less than 2 percent of our budget. How do we think we're going to take care off Minnesota's natural resources forking over that kind of money."

That's why dedicated funding is necessary, he said.

"If you have the funds and it's directed at the right things, we can do a lot," Schara said. "We can undo some of the mistakes we've done."

Phil Krinkie, president of Minnesota Taxpayers League, which is leading the Vote No campaign opposing the measure, said in a phone interview that improving hunting and fishing and water quality are things most people support, but the arts component makes it hard to swallow.

More than $2 billion would go to arts funding during the measure's 25-year life if it passes, Krinkie said. Where, he wondered, were the ballerinas and violinists Wednesday afternoon?

"Now the sportsmen made this deal with the devil, they want to ignore their ugly stepsister," he said.

Krinkie said the Taxpayers League also opposes "circumventing" the legislative process by dedicating tax dollars to specific programs. He said the Legislature and local governments already spend hundreds of millions of dollars on water and conservation projects.

"They're just dissatisfied, disgruntled with the speed of progress," Krinkie said of the Vote Yes campaign. "In our view, that doesn't mean the Legislature is wrong. It just means the Legislature hasn't acted as quickly or provided as much in the way of resources as they want."

Grant the star

Judging by the abundance of Minnesota Vikings purple scattered throughout Wednesday's crowd, many clearly were on hand to see and hear Grant.

The coaching legend didn't disappoint and signed numerous autographs, including a Cabela's catalog for one store employee. At 81, Grant walks a bit slower than he did in the days he paced the Vikings sidelines, but he still is a commanding presence.

Grant also drew the loudest applause of the afternoon when someone asked if he'd return as Vikings coach if the dedicated funding measure passes.

"If that's what it takes," he quipped.

Another time, he followed up on an aspect of the measure that would create an independent citizen council to decide how the money for fish and wildlife habitat would be spent. Many opponents in northwestern Minnesota have said they don't want to give more of their tax dollars to the Department of Natural Resources.

No worries, Grant assured, sounding very much like the calm, collected coach he was.

"The DNR will not be involved," he said. Instead, they would apply for funding just like any other group.

"That's what we want to hear," an audience member replied.

Grant acknowledged that dedicating a small share of the funding for the arts isn't necessarily popular with people in the outdoors community. But give and take is the nature of politics, and that's what it took to get the measure before voters.

"I think we got most of the take, but we had to give a little," he said.

Grant said Tuesday's election puts the future of Minnesota's outdoors and natural resources at a crossroads.

"I think the public, if they know about it, if they're just aware of what's out there, I think we can get the votes," Grant said. "It's a small price to pay. We're taking our lakes, streams and parks for granted."

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