The devil is in the details as the House and Senate undertake reconciling their views on how to fund the state’s environment and natural resource agencies for the 2020-21 biennium.
The two legislative bodies bring a $118 million difference in direct appropriations to the table as a conference committee began Tuesday to seek agreement on their versions of HF2209, the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill.
Conference committee co-chairs Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) need to lead the wading through 164 earmarked expenditures distinct to each body’s version of the bill: 68 found only in the House version and 96 found only in the Senate version.
The committee kicked of the process of crafting a bill from these disparate parts Tuesday with a review of accounting differences and testimony from Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop.
She said the Senate version of the bill would reduce General Fund dollars by 85 percent and tie agency functions and programming more closely to the state’s Environmental Fund.
“This is not good public policy and it is not what is best for Minnesota,” Bishop stated.
Pushing the agency to fund more of its efforts with money from enforcement and permits would have deleterious impacts on the environment and economy, she warned.
Bishop made a plea for funding of priority cleanup projects such as of the St. Louis River Area of Concern and the Freeway Landfill and Dump, as well as funding for legal expenses incurred by the agency defending its work in court.
Gov. Tim Walz’s proposed budget, the touchstone for comparing the two versions, asked for an additional $58 million in direct appropriations for environment and natural resource spending, with the bulk going into the budgets of the PCA and DNR. His proposed gas tax would generate $15.8 million toward that increase.
The House version of the bill would go further, providing an increase of $82.2 million and incorporate the proposed gas tax funding.
The Senate version would cut $35.86 million from direct appropriation base funding and does not include the proposed gas tax funding. It would also introduce a rigorous shift in funding of the Pollution Control Agency.