In 2008, Minnesotans showed that they’re dedicated enough to clean water, the outdoors and the arts that they asked to be taxed more heavily in order to dedicate funding to those causes. But it’s up to the Legislature to decide each biennium who’s best tasked with fulfilling the Legacy Amendment’s mission.
At Friday’s special session, those decisions were passed and sent to Gov. Tim Walz for his signature.
About $630 million in revenue – or a 0.375 percent slice of state sales taxes – will likely soon be on its way to four funds born of that constitutional amendment. Sponsored by Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) and Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), The bill was passed by the House 103-23, a few hours after it was passed 64-2 by the Senate.
Legacy Amendment money is divided into four pots. The Outdoor Heritage Fund protects and restores wetlands, prairies and forests, while the Clean Water Fund is entrusted with maintaining clean water in the state. Each receives 33 percent of Legacy allocations. The remaining third is split between the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (19.75 percent) — which is earmarked for artists and arts organizations, museums, zoos, and history and cultural projects — and the Parks and Trails Fund (14.25 percent), which is pretty self-explanatory.
Legacy-dedicated sales taxes would be distributed to the four funds in this manner:
[MORE View the spreadsheet]
The Outdoor Heritage Fund
This fund metes out its money in annual increments, and its section of the bill echoed the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for restoration and protection of habitats ($50.1 million), prairies ($38.3 million), wetlands ($20.8 million) and forests ($17 million). Its three largest projects involve Department of Natural Resources grassland enhancement, a shallow lake and wetland protection program, and accelerating a wildlife management area program.
Some House members expressed concern about the amount of land that has been pulled from private ownership thanks to Legacy dollars.
“If we’re not at one-third of Minnesota being public lands, we’re pretty close,” said Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston).
The Clean Water Fund
Over half of this fund’s allocations for the 2020-21 biennium would be to the Board of Water and Soil Resources ($138.4 million). Within that are the four largest lines on its ledger: $32 million for surface and drinking water protection and restoration grants; $27 million for grants to watersheds with multiyear plans; $24 million in administration grants for soil and water conservation districts; and $17.3 million for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.
Clean Water Fund monies will also go to the Pollution Control Agency ($46.5 million); Department of Agriculture ($21.7 million); DNR ($18.6 million); Public Facilities Authority ($18.3 million); and Department of Health ($13 million), among others.
“Funding of Soil and Water Conservation Districts goes against the Clean Water Council’s recommendations,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska). “But I think it’s the best thing to do.”
The Parks and Trails Fund
This one is pretty straightforward, as its recipients have negotiated an agreed upon formula: 40 percent for state park trails and recreation areas, 40 percent to parks and trails within the Twin Cities area, and 20 percent for parks and trails elsewhere in the state. Considering that the fund is very close to exactly $100 million, it’s easy to figure out how much each is getting: Just substitute “percent” with “million.”
“Before Legacy, parks and trails in the metro area had 38 million users a year,” said Lillie. “Now they get 60 million visitors a year.”
The Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund
The State Arts Board would receive almost half of this fund’s biennial outlay ($65.7 million). Within its purview is the largest recipient of monies from this fund, the board’s arts and arts access initiatives ($52.6 million). Other large appropriations would include $12.9 each to the Minnesota Historical Society’s “statewide historic and cultural grants” and “statewide history programs,” as well as $9.9 million for State Arts Board arts education grants; $8.9 million for Minnesota Public Television; $5.1 million for regional public libraries; and $5 million for the Historical Society’s “History Partnerships.”
Among others receiving allocations from the fund would be the Indian Affairs Council for language and cultural programming ($3.6 million), the Minnesota Zoo ($3.5 million), Minnesota Public Radio ($3.5 million) and the AMPERS system of community radio stations ($3.5 million).
“We are the envy of the country,” Lillie said. “To do some of this would be impossible if we didn’t have Legacy.”