Committee best directs state's Legacy Amendment money
In November, 2008, voters across Minnesota supported a constitutional amendment dedicating a portion of the sales tax to protect the environment and the arts. The Clean Water, Wildlife, Cultural Heritage and Natural Areas Amendment, commonly known as the Legacy Amendment, raised the sales tax by three-eighths of one percent and designated four separate areas to receive funding.
Outdoor Heritage and Clean Water each receive 33 percent of the funds generated, Parks and Trails gets 14.25 percent and Arts and Cultural Heritage receives 19.75 percent.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council was created to help the Legislature choose projects for funding. This council (made up of legislators and stakeholders) listens to every request for funding submitted by taxpayers, especially hunters, wildlife enthusiasts, anglers and conservation groups. The selected projects are then submitted to the Legislature for consideration. On Thursday night, the Minnesota House passed the Outdoor Heritage funding bill, approving $59 million worth of projects intended to protect, enhance and restore wetlands, forests and prairies. For the second year in a row, the Legislature accepted and fully funded all of the Lessard-Sams Council recommendations.
The list approved by the House contains a variety of projects scattered throughout Minnesota. The Department of Natural Resources was given the go-ahead to purchase 730 acres of Wildlife Management Areas. They were also given money to protect acres of prairie and restore over 20,000 other prairie acres now in decline. Other projects run the gamut from restoring wetlands for fish and wildlife to enhancing forests.
HF3790 passed Thursday night and resolved a controversy surrounding definitions clarifying how the money would be spent. Of particular concern was the definition of the word "protect" in the phrase "and may be spent only to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies and forests." While some conservation groups want appropriations spent only on projects that purchase new land, the House adopted language which allowed also for care and management of the land. "Protect" can include acquisition, but is not only acquisition.
A report issued by the Office of the Legislative Auditor added support for this definition by indicating the Department of Natural Resources does not appear to have enough money to manage the land it already owns. There was particular concern about easements that haven't been inspected in years and other lands and waters that are becoming polluted and suffer from lack of attention.
Over the past few years, state funding for the environment has diminished, while at the same time pollutants, chemicals, invasive species and other threats are damaging our lakes, streams, forests and drinking water. The Legacy Amendment allows dollars to be used to improve and protect the rich resources of our state for our children and grandchildren.
The last week of the legislative session is always a busy time and this year is proving to be no exception. There is added pressure in 2010 as the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled last week against the unallotment measures taken last year by Governor Pawlenty. As a result, instead of a significant $500 million deficit, we face an even larger budget shortfall of almost $3 billion. As a first step toward resolving this deficit, the House voted late Friday to ratify the governor's unallotment, as he requested. That proposal failed on a bipartisan vote of 105 – 27. Over the coming days negotiations will continue between the House, Senate and the governor on a budget agreement.
Please continue to contact me with your questions and concerns. I can be reached by phone at 1-888-682-3180 or 1-651-296-4193, by mail at 487 State Office Building, 100 Martin Luther King Blvd., St. Paul, MN 55155 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. If you would like to stay more closely in touch with what is happening at the legislature, visit my website at http://www.house.mn/27B or the House of Representatives website at www.house.mn.
Jeanne Poppe, DFL-Austin, represents Distict 27B in the Minnesota House.