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Government notorious for troublesome rules

December 2, 2011
Gary Andersen, Lee Smith , Fairmont Sentinel

It's amazing just how unclear many of government's rules and actions are. One of the greatest complaints about regulation from Washington or St. Paul has to do with how troubling inconsistent and contradictory the rules can be. It's open for interpretation. This creates a boon for attorneys, but a great cost for society, in terms of lost efficiency. That hurts everyone in the long run, but it's an unseen cost that most people never notice.

What about when these things come to light? That seems to be happening now with Minnesota's Legacy Amendment, approved by voters in 2008. The constitutional amendment created a small increase in the state sales tax for the benefit of the outdoors; clean water; arts and culture; and parks and trails. In just a few years, $450 million has been raised and allocated.

But here's the big question:?In times of tight budgets in St. Paul, can the Legacy funding simply be used to replace what otherwise would have been budgeted in these areas? Or must the Legacy dollars supplement what otherwise would have been spent. Legislative Auditor James Noble said in a report this week that the money is meant to supplement existing funding. But there is no enforcement mechanism in the amendment. And nothing can prevent the Legislature from cutting environmental and natural resources budgets, knowing Legacy funds are available to fill the gap.

Desperate times may call for creative financing, but did voters anticipate this when they voted for the amendment? This is a recipe for lawsuits and an eventual state Supreme Court decision. And that is too often the case in government. The fundamental problem is too much government trying - impossibly - to fund and control too many things.



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