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Amendment could jeopardize $100 million Outdoor Heritage Fund bill

Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council Executive Director Mark Johnson, right, and Assistant Director Heather Coop present a bill to the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee Jan. 28 that would appropriate Outdoor Heritage Fund money. Photo by Andrew VonBank

The House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee approved legislation Wednesday that would appropriate just over $100 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund for 34 proposed projects around the state.

But the committee also approved an amendment that at least one member believes could jeopardize the entire bill.

Sponsored by Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings), HF181 passed 12-9 on a partisan roll-call vote after an amendment offered by Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) was approved that would eliminate funding for a project that would have provided almost $2.19 million for the White Earth Nation to acquire nearly 2,000 acres of land in northern Minnesota.

The bill now moves to the House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee. Its companion, SF242, sponsored by Sen. Tom Saxhaug (DFL-Grand Rapids), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

[WATCH: Full video of Wednesday's House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee hearing is available on our YouTube channel]

The White Earth Nation seeks to acquire land along the Wild Rice River and its tributaries for wildlife habitat protection. It said the matter was of some urgency because the current owner of the property Potlach Corp., a lumber company based in Washington state, is actively marketing it.

Green opposed the acquisition of the land because it would then no longer be subject to local property taxes in an area that he said was already “tax poor” and needed the revenue.

“This (amendment) is to address problems in Clearwater County,” Green said. “This affects our schools, our roads, everything up there, our property taxes, our rent. It’s just a big chunk of land.”

However, Rep. John Persell (DFL-Bemidji) took issue with the amendment, telling the committee he had been part of a restoration project to clean up a body of water in the area polluted by a chicken farm in the 1960s and 70s. 

“There’s several million dollars of rice growing up there,” Persell said. “My take on this is White Earth is trying to protect the resource. … You have to be White Earth to rice on this lake, so it’s theirs to protect for themselves and the economic benefit that those couple million pounds of rice brings about.”

His concerns were echoed by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) who said the amendment “could potentially imperil the entire bill.” Hornstein noted Gov. Mark Dayton’s 2013 line-item veto of Outdoor Heritage Fund money for several metro area projects that had not been approved by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

Despite the objections, the amendment was approved on a 13-8 roll call vote.

The council was created by the Legislature to provide annual funding recommendations as to which proposed projects should receive money from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which was one of four funds created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment approved by voters in 2008. That amendment increased the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent until 2034 to provide a dedicated revenue stream for Minnesota’s natural and cultural resources. By law, each fund receives a percentage of the revenue raised: Clean Water Fund – 33 percent; Outdoor Heritage Fund – 33 percent; Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund – 19.75 percent; Parks and Trails Fund – 14.25 percent.

By the numbers

The $100 million Outdoor Heritage Fund appropriation proposed by HF181 for Fiscal Year 2016 is slightly less than the fund’s appropriation of $100.05 million in Fiscal Year 2014, but significantly less than the $109.32 million appropriated in Fiscal Year 2015.

Appropriations by subdivision (in millions)

                                2014       2015       2016 (proposed)

Prairies                 27.7        37.4        40.9

Forests                 7.13        16.1        12.6

Wetlands               31.15     24           22.6

Habitats               33.28     30.8        22.3

Admin                   753K      885K      1.4

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