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Audit Calls Legacy Fund Spending A ‘Work In Progress’

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(credit: CBS) Pat Kessler
Pat Kessler knows Minnesota politics. He's been on the beat long...
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — In 2008, Minnesota voters went to the polls and approved a state sales tax that would fund clean water, parks and the arts.

The money from the tax would go into the state’s Legacy Fund. Just go online to find out more about the cultural projects, and environmental programs all receiving money as part of Minnesota’s Legacy.

A new report shows the State Legislature needs to get a better handle on how millions of dollars in the Legacy Funds are getting spent.

The audit report calls it a work in progress, but Minnesota voters said ‘yes’ to a sales tax increase to pay for conservation and arts projects.

Now three years old, the first close look at Legacy spending found “conflicts of interest, confusion and uncertainty.”

“Indeed there have been significant challenges, controversies, and ongoing concerns,” said Legislative Auditor James Nobles.

Since 2008, The Legacy Amendment brought in $425 million. The money is going out, and fast. Sometimes too fast.

A bookkeeping error mistakenly sent one conservation group nearly half a million dollars. Instead of getting the money back, the state allowed the group to keep it and use it for credit against future payments.

“How in the world does that happen? That is not acceptable,” said Sen. Ann Rest from New Hope.

Some critics want more control over millions of dollars in grants to arts and cultural groups, like a $7,000 award for an oral history project.

Defenders warned it’s a dangerous path.

“Some might have the opinion that ‘How is it worth $7,000 to sit down and talk to some old guy about history?’ But there is much more to it than that,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl from Grove City.

The audit found no wrongdoing, but said lawmakers urgently need to get a handle on the gusher of money.

“It’s more difficult to justify and document but that’s simply the reality of what we’re all dealing with,” Urdahl said.

The audit calls Legacy Fund spending “a work in progress.” With an expected $6 to $7 billion expected to be generated from the Legacy Amendment, that’s going to be quite a job. Legacy funds are intended to supplement, not replace, state funding.

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