In 2008, 1,635,046 Minnesota voters (56 percent) voted for the Legacy Amendment, which imposed "a three-eighths of one percent tax on themselves for 25 years, until 2034, in the name of cleaner water, healthier habitat, better parks and trails and sustaining our arts and cultural heritage."
However, the pilot I Can Camp program actually pre-dates the Legacy program, according to a 2008 DNR press release posted on the Outdoor Central News Network, Minnesota State Parks Responds to Studies That Show Camping Does Not Come ‘Naturally’ To Some:
When focus group participants were asked to name some things that kept them from going camping, many said they simply didn’t know how to camp. The focus group sessions were conducted last year by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Division of Parks and Recreation.
“This came as somewhat of a surprise for those of us who have been involved with camping and outdoor activities from childhood,” said Courtland Nelson, director of the Division of Parks and Recreation. “It stands to reason, if you haven’t had the experience or training, a new venture can be intimidating.”
To remove the barrier, Minnesota state parks sought to partner with an outdoor recreation organization that could help provide equipment, teach and train those with a desire to learn the basics of outdoor camping.
As a result, Minnesota state parks and its partner, REI, developed “I Can Camp” for individuals and families to learn the basics of camping. . . .
Again, this program has its roots in the Pawlenty-era DNR, and when voters chose to dedicate (meaning it can't be spent on other things) funds to our amazing outdoors, the Parks and Trails Fund got a piece of the pie.
But Senator Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, is having none of these facts.
And it's all Governor Dayton's fault, according to a June 30, 2016 legislative update forwarded to us by one of Senator Newman's constituents. Newman complains under the subject line: You likely don’t know what Governor Dayton is spending your money on and you probably wouldn’t approve if you did [bold in original]:
You have often heard me criticize Governor Dayton and the DFL Senate Majority, and I think with some degree of justification, for what I consider an irresponsible increase in state spending. Since 2012 under Governor Dayton, income tax collections have surged 20%, overall spending burgeoned by 18% while our population increase and inflation both come in at around 3%.
With these percentages being so divergent, the question we need to ask is what is the money being spent on? Too often our tax money is being spent on government programs that are wasteful, feel-good or completely out of the realm of government responsibility. To illustrate, I will share with you a specific government program which epitomizes my criticism: The “I Can” program by the DNR is a perfect example of what I am complaining about. (http://www.dnr.state.mn.us/state_parks/ican/index.html) “I Can Camp”, “I Can Paddle”, “I Can Mountain Bike”, “I Can Climb”, and “I Can Fish” are all programs designed and paid for by the Minnesota DNR to teach folks how to build a campfire, pitch a tent, paddle a canoe or catch a fish. The cost is generally under $100 and includes an instructor, all necessary gear and a park permit.
To quote the DNR website,
“Designed for families to try any or all for the first time.
Hands-on instruction from experienced and friendly crews.
Free to unbelievably affordable.”
I don’t know what the cost of providing state employees the funds to purchase the necessary equipment, administrative fees or the cost to maintain and store the gear, but I’d bet it is significant rather than “Free to unbelievably affordable”.
As we noted earlier, the I Can! program funded by dedicated Legacy funding--that voters imposed on themselves--didn't begin with the election of Governor Dayton. Rather, it began in FY2010. Dayton took office in January 2010.
Does the program cost money? Why yes it does--and were Newman not so enamored of his own complaining voice, he could look look up how much Legacy dollars the I Can! programs cost for FY2010, FY2011, and FY2012 on the left sidebar here. As a state senator, he can ask the DNR for later years.
But fact-finding might get in the way of indignation and demagoguery, so Newman doesn't share this information with his constituents. He wants them mad! He continues:
I do not view state tax money to be compartmentalized or pigeonholed into various state agencies.
Sorry, bub, but the voters disagreed with you on this one, and directed money to be spent on the outdoors, clean water and the like. Since the DNR has worked on state parks and trails for years, we're baffled as to why these dedicated funds wouldn't be directed to an agency in charge of this sort of thing.
But there's more! Newman writes:
Rather, I believe tax revenue should target those legitimate and necessary functions that the private sector and individuals are unable to provide. I see waste that you are paying for like the DNR program described above as money that could be used to fund core functions of government like Bonding, Public Safety, Education and Transportation. Camping and fishing should be left for parents to teach their children on their own. That’s what I did.
Again, by approving the Legacy Amendment in 2008, voters put it in the Minnesota state constitution that this money could not be spent on "Bonding, Public Safety, Education and Transportation." Sorry, Senator Newman, but you can't steal the families' camping, climbing, canoeing and fishing money to spend on public safety--AKA, cops and jails.
On Planet Newman, if you're a kid and your parent/parents didn't grow up fishing, camping and the like, you're SOL. We suppose that we could just let kids wander around on lakeshores and campgrounds hoping they figure it out on their own, but that sort of thing can be dangerous.
Minnesota has changed since Newman was a boy in the late 1940s and 1950s. Depriving children and families of the chance to learn competence in enjoying the outdoors seems simply peevish.
I offer this example (and there are certainly numerous others) as an explanation for why I continue to balk at a request for an increase in the gas tax and supplemental budget bills that come on the heels of the 2015 appropriation bill which was the largest in Minnesota history. The lesson to be learned: so long as Governor Dayton is in charge of state agencies like the DNR and the Senate is controlled by the current majority, there will be even more taxes and increased spending; they have no limit on what they believe the government should provide.
Again: these programs are part of the Legacy Fund. Sorry: you can't raid them to pursue your dreams of tiny government and Father Knows Best nostalgia.
We'd asked the DNR communications office for information about the success of these programs. In an email, a spokester sent this passages:
Six years since the inaugural season of Minnesota State Parks and Trails’ flagship program, I Can Camp!, the I Can! series continues to flourish. Participation continues to rise each year, culminating in 2015 being our best year to date. With over 2,600 participants at I Can! programs, the 2015 program season saw record-setting attendance as well as an overall occupancy of 81%. Since the first I Can Camp! programs took place in 2010, annual participation has more than quadrupled and over 10,000 people have attended I Can! programs.
Cartoon: "Old Man Yells At Cloud" from The Simpsons.
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