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Our view: Checkoff or not, time to get ready for Minnesota's 150th

A bill heard by the state House Taxation Committee yesterday would add a check-off box of $1 on individual and corporate state income tax forms to help fund the state's 2008 sesquicentennial celebration. The optional donation would mimic the Nong...

A bill heard by the state House Taxation Committee yesterday would add a check-off box of $1 on individual and corporate state income tax forms to help fund the state's 2008 sesquicentennial celebration. The optional donation would mimic the Nongame Wildlife Fund contribution already on state tax forms, a.k.a., the "Chickadee Checkoff" (though it's indicated on Line 27 by a loon). Wisconsin has one for the Packers.

The option also evokes the $3 Presidential Election Campaign Fund checkoff on federal 1040s, though there's a difference: The federal donation doesn't affect your tax owed or refunded, the dollar to the state would be an extra donation.

Why is it needed? According to bill sponsor Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-Mendota), it's because the impending anniversary of Minnesota's statehood has been virtually overlooked. Though a Minnesota Sesquicentennial Commission was appointed last year, it has been minimally funded--in the $100,000 range last year, Hansen recalled. Gov. Tim Pawlenty's budget proposes $2 million for sesquicentennial initiatives for the coming biennium, though the amount is part of a more-or-less level-funded Minnesota Historical Society budget.

The main issue, Hansen told the News Tribune's editorial page staff, is that the anniversary of Minnesota's statehood is May 11, 2008. Today is April 13, 2007.

"Really, the bill should have been introduced two years ago," Hansen said. "Even for '07, when people file for taxes it'll be '08, and people will be into the celebration. I joked with the committee chair that maybe we should plan for the bicentennial."

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A checkoff option, however, raises eyebrows at the Statehouse more quickly than it can raise any cash.

"Everybody wanted to do checkoff," said Dana Frey, a former staffer at the House and Senate taxation committees and now the St. Louis County Administrator.

"We had the Chickadee Checkoff. Building a new stadium was one. There's education or whatever. When you start to do that, participation [by taxpayers] falls off like a rock."

Hansen said he's aware of the potential for checkoff choke and for that reason has limited the option to appear on the 2007 and '08 tax returns only -- a sunset provision worth considering in any future checkoff bills. But however the bill fares with his colleagues, Hansen says the important thing is to bring the sesquicentennial to the collective consciousness of Minnesotans.

"One-hundred-fifty years is a big deal for our state," he said. The worry that the landmark year will come and go is a legit concern, given the modest commemorations for the 150th birthdays of both Duluth and St. Louis County last year, and the 100th anniversary of Duluth's Aerial Bridge in 2005. While events were held, they paled in comparison to Duluth's week-long 100th birthday bash in 1956.

Is history becoming less important to us?

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