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House repasses $529 million Legacy bill

By Jonathan Mohr
Rep. Bob Gunther, seated, chair of the House Legacy Funding Finance Committee, is congratulated by Rep. Leon Lillie after the passage of the omnibus legacy finance conference committee report May 21. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The House and Senate each voted late Sunday to repass a conference committee report on an omnibus Legacy finance bill that would appropriate $529.56 million during the upcoming biennium.

Sponsored by Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) and Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), the report on HF707 would appropriate money from the four funds established by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008 to benefit the state’s natural and cultural resources.

Following the 106-28 House vote and 64-3 Senate vote, the bill goes to Gov. Mark Dayton.

The 10-member omnibus Legacy finance conference committee reached agreement Thursday. The House and Senate bills had been $620,000 apart in funding.

Gunther said negotiations with Dayton had resulted in “a good bill” that required compromise.

“They didn’t get all they wanted and I didn’t get all I wanted,” Gunther said. “I tried to be fair geographically and politically. I tried to make this the best bill I could.” 

The appropriations called for the upcoming biennium include:

  • Clean Water Fund – $211.87 million
  • Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund – $123.36 million
  • Outdoor Heritage Fund – $104.56 million
  • Parks and Trails Fund – $89.76 million

 

Clean water appropriations

The bill includes a $22 million appropriation from the Clean Water Fund for grants to the state’s 90 soil and water conservation districts to help them comply with the 2015 buffer law meant to improve water quality.

There are also $3 million in CWF appropriations for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program, which pays landowners to retire environmentally sensitive land from production to help improve the environment. Mark Dayton signed an agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture in January to secure $350 million in federal funding for the program, but the state must commit $150 million of its own money.

Conferees added an amendment from Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) that would redirect $5 million from surface and drinking water grants to Soil and Water Conservation Districts to help implement buffers or alternative practices. The amendment also specifies that $2.5 million of that total can be used outside the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Area – the 54 Minnesota counties designated with the highest need for removing improving water quality and protecting habitat.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) criticized the $22 million appropriation from the CWF and questioned its constitutionality. He said the bill is one of several “interlocking” omnibus bills and it would be important to watch how they all worked together to provide funds meant to improve water quality.

“Credit where it’s due, it’s creative how it all comes together,” Hansen said. “I don’t think it’s right, but it is creative.”

 

Ag water certification

The Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program would receive $5 million that would be used by the Department of Agriculture to help implement approved farm management practices that improve water quality.

Officials have testified they need at least $5 million in Clean Water Funds over the next biennium to leverage an additional $5.2 million in federal funds. Anything less and none of that money will be available. More than 365 farms have already been certified by the program, and officials say 350 more are awaiting certification.

 

Final cuts

A House provision that would have allowed some counties to file no-net-gain policies with the Department of Natural Resources did not make the final version.

Also missing was a House provision that would have prohibited Legacy appropriations from being used to pay for “indirect costs” such as rent, utilities, other overhead costs, etc. However, the bill does require Minnesota Management and Budget to issue a report on the impact of indirect costs for each of the four funds.

 

Other appropriations include:

  • $46.3 million for grants to support Minnesota artists and arts organizations for high-quality arts activities, overcoming barriers to access arts activities and instilling the arts in community and public life;
  • $17.7 million for grants for parks and trails of regional significance outside the seven-county metropolitan area;
  • $8.05 million for grants to Minnesota Public Television;
  • $3.5 million for the Minnesota Zoo;
  • $3.3 million for Minnesota Public Radio;
  • $2.7 million for Como Park Zoo;
  • $1.2 million for the Science Museum; and
  • $1 million for the Minnesota Children’s Museum. 

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