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AUSTIN EDITION JEFF ANDERSON COL Proposal would provide DNR funds for local projects

I recently introduced legislation in the House seeking $2.6 million in the bonding bill to allow the Department of Natural Resources to fund local initiative grants to local governments that want to preserve natural habitat and area water quality in their jurisdictions.

Under this unique program, local units of government can receive grants for up to 60 percent of land acquisition costs if they promise to preserve the land for natural habitat protection. Part of my bill would provide a $261,000 grant to the city of Austin to acquire 148 acres of land adjacent to the Hormel Nature Center.

Like other state capital infrastructure requests in the bonding bill this session, this proposal will likely face stiff competition.

The House is likely to adopt a bonding bill close to the governor's $760 million proposal, but remember, requests for money -- from state agencies and individual legislators -- total into the billions. I'm still plugging away for my $800,000 request for the Shooting Star Trail. The Hormel Nature Center grant and Shooting Star proposals have one advantage -- they're both mature proposals with clear objectives. I think that will help.

Deadlines

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The Minnesota House has picked up the pace after committee deadlines were adopted last week. The first deadline is Friday at which time all policy bills must be cleared through policy committees. The second deadline is March 19 for "companion bills" that received a hearing in the Senate. Finally, all omnibus finance bills must be settled by March 26. As a result, it's been busy -- bills are stacked in committees like cordwood. As a legislator, you must be prepared to present your bill quickly. It's not unusual to have committee chairs impose a five-minute time limit on bill presentations. Another change is that committee hearings are stretching into the evenings to accommodate the new deadlines.

Budget implications

Recently, the state Finance Department released its updated revenue forecast. It shows a $160 million shortfall for the 2004-2005 budget period, down from the November forecast of $185 million.

With this information in hand, the governor was expected to release his supplementary budget recommendations soon. Much of the work of the 2004 session was put on hold until we knew the scope of the budget situation. The encouraging part of the report is that Minnesota job growth is slowly picking up.

Here's an interesting point: Revenue growth -- the amount of taxes collected by the state -- is expected to grow by 4 percent per year through fiscal 2007. While overall state spending is flat, our ongoing commitments for health care and long-term care is creating the potential for a $440 million shortfall for the 2006-2007 biennium despite higher tax collections. That's why it's so critical that the Legislature enact some sort of health care cost containment package this session. If we don't begin to rein in these costs, taxpayers will be asked to pay more for their own health care and for publicly subsidized health care.

Town meetings

Be sure to join me at an upcoming town meeting. On March 19, I'll be at the Windmill Travel Center and Pine Cone Restaurant in Dexter. On March 26, I'll be at The Diner in Grand Meadow. Finally, join me on April 9 at the Main Street Cafe in LeRoy. All town meetings begin at 7:30 a.m.

Day at the Capitol

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There's still time to sign up for my "Day at the Capitol" on March 31. A bus will leave the PineCone Restaurant in Dexter at 7 a.m. and the Perkins in Austin at 7:30 a.m. and return later in the day after a Capitol tour. Cost is $15 (lunch is not included.) Remember, too, it'll be Spam Day at the Capitol, so don't miss it! Call me at 1-888-682-3180 to reserve your spot.

What's on your mind? Constituents in District 27B in Mower and Fillmore counties can contact me at 583 State Office Building, 100 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155. Call me, toll-free, at 1-888-682-3180, or e-mail me at rep.jeff.anderson@house.mn.

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