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Minnesota Legislature

Revised Legacy bill heads to House floor

A protected source of funding relatively unattached to the vagaries of the state budgeting process: That was a big part of the appeal when voters approved the Legacy Amendment in 2008. A collection of accounts would be set up to finance the preservation of clean water, natural lands, the arts, and parks and trails, funded by a three-eighths of 1% sales tax increase.

But sales tax revenues, like most taxes, have declined significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. So what does that mean for Legacy Amendment funding? The House Ways and Means Committee started to find out on Tuesday when HF2682 – a bill sponsored by Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) that was replaced by a delete-all amendment and further amended – was approved 23-6 and sent to the House Floor.

Its companion, SF2732, sponsored by Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee.

Most of the funds under the Legacy Amendment umbrella were budgeted during the 2019 session. But the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which receives one-third of Legacy monies, is funded on an annual basis, as opposed to the biannual allocations to the Clean Water Fund, the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and the Parks and Trails Fund.

The bill approved Tuesday contains $117.9 million in funding from the Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is down $19.6 million from when the bill was approved by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division in February. Lillie said those cuts were relatively evenly divided among Outdoor Heritage Fund recipients.

As amended, the bill would also give extensions to projects whose funding is set to expire on June 30. The extensions were two years for Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund projects approved in 2017 and one year for Clean Water Fund and Parks and Trails Fund projects approved in 2019.

The bill also features amendments to the appropriations for the Rochester Children’s Museum and the Medal of Honor Commemorative Memorial, and would extend for a year the availability of General Fund money to assist State Arts Board administration in moving its offices.

Its $117.9 million in Outdoor Heritage Fund appropriations break down as follows:

  • $35.8 million for prairie projects;
  • $13.7 million for forest projects;
  • $12.6 million for wetland projects;
  • $55.4 million for other habitat projects and the Conservation Partners Legacy Grant program; and
  • $360,000 for administration, including contract management services from the Department of Natural Resources and restoration evaluations.

The bill would also modify appropriations for a pair of previously approved conservation easements and require meetings of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to be webcast and archived.

Details of the bill’s specific outlays can be found here.

Another key element presented to the committee was a revised estimate of how much is expected to be available to the different Legacy funds as a result of an expected decline in sales tax revenue. A chart from nonpartisan House Fiscal Analysis shows the reduction from February’s budget forecast is estimated to be 18% to 19% for the 2020-21 biennium.

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