I found the allocation vote in the Journal of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Tuesday, February 16, 2010. It's in section (c) of bill H.F. 2624 and reads:
"$372,000 is from the trust fund to continue development of a statewide survey of Minnesota breeding bird distribution and create related publications, including a book and online atlas with distribution maps and breeding status. Of this appropriation, $211,000 is to the commissioner of natural resources for an agreement with Audubon Minnesota and $161,000 is to the Board of Regents of the University of Minnesota for the Natural Resources Research Institute. The atlas must be available for downloading on the Internet free of charge."
So this wasn't some little book about how to breed your parakeets. This is a major ecological study to produce a state-wide resource guide that will be available to the public free of charge. The project site describes it this way:
"The Minnesota Breeding Bird Atlas (MNBBA) is a critical bird conservation project designed to document every species that currently breeds in Minnesota and where in the state each species breeds. Surprisingly, Minnesota is one of only seven states, and the only state along the Mississippi Flyway, that has not developed a breeding bird atlas."
Get that? We were the only state along the Mississippi Flyway that had not done this kind of survey. And one of only seven states in the whole country lacking such an atlas. So this was not -- excuse the pun -- a fly by night project. (For more on the Minnesota Bird Breeding Atlas project, now completed, click here.)
My next question was, how was this project funded? The "trust fund" referred to in the appropriation cited above is The Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund, established in 1988 by constitutional amendment (with 77% approval) "for the public purpose of protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state's air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources." So this project is coming from money that is already earmarked for environmental projects.
John Kline's ad ends with saying, "Mike Obermueller: Wherever you look, it costs you money," followed by the usual "I'm John Kline and I approve this message." So we know it isn't some PAC claiming this, it's the man himself. But is it really costing you money? Where does the money for the Trust Fund come from? Is it really a waste of taxpayer dollars like the Kline ad claims?
Hardly. It's funded by the Minnesota State Lottery, not your taxes. Playing the lottery is completely voluntary. So if you don't want your money going to help the environment by producing things like the Bird Breeding Atlas, then don't play the lottery. It's that simple. Nobody is forcing anybody to pay for this project! (More on where the Minnesota lottery funds go...)
But beyond the question of the accuracy of the ad is the greater concern: John Kline apparently doesn't care about Minnesota birds or the environment. He doesn't even care enough to do the simple online research it took for me to write this article before "approving" his ad to air. Not even after it aired and many others besides me have pointed out the error. On Minnesota's At Issue program this week, during a discussion between Kline and Obermueller, moderator Tom Hauser asked Kline if he still stands by the ad and he said "yes." (Although I do note that a more recent attack ad about "pork" left out the reference to birds. Apparently his campaign managers are more savvy than he is.)
The very fact that he would choose this project to ridicule Obermueller is in itself telling. Apparently Kline has no idea how we Minnesotans really feel about the natural resources of our state. After all, 77% of Minnesotans voted for the Amendment that created the Trust Fund that paid for this and other environmental projects. And he is certainly not aware of the economic impact of birds on our economy. Tourism, travel, and purchases related to birds account for an estimated $400 million to our state economy. Not to mention other outdoor activities not directly related to birds, but where the presence of birds certainly enhances the experience, such as camping, hiking, skiing, boating, etc. Maybe he has been in Washington so long he has forgotten what most of Minnesota looks like.
Oh, and by the way, John Kline voted for the infamous Alaskan "bridge to nowhere" and also voted to continue funding NASCAR sponsorships -- wasteful things that really did come from taxpayer money. That's a whole lot more pork than a survey of wild birds funded by the lottery.