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More than $100m OK’d for conservation projects in omnibus legacy bill

Rep. Leon Lillie presents HF2682, the omnibus legacy finance bill, during the House floor session May 15. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Those participating in projects that receive funding from the Legacy Amendment may be able to breathe a bit easier: Their June 30 deadline for completing projects will likely be extended by one or two years.

And various conservation projects around the state would receive $117.9 million from the Outdoor Heritage Fund as part of the omnibus legacy finance bill passed 110-21 by the House Friday.

HF2682, sponsored by Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), contains those provisions, as well as others funded by the Legacy Amendment, which voters approved in 2008 to maintain a source of funding for clean water, conservation, parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage projects via a three-eighths of 1% addition to the state sales tax.

The bill next goes to the Senate, where Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) is the sponsor.

Omnibus legacy finance bill, HF2682 debated on the House Floor 5/15/20

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 deadline extensions inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic and its resultant restrictions would be 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 would also appropriate funds for the Rochester Children’s Museum and the Medal of Honor Commemorative Memorial, and 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.

[MORE: View the bill’s specific outlays]

The bill would also require meetings of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to be webcast and archived.

“This will keep people working on habitat projects throughout Minnesota, and it extends some projects set to expire in June,” Lillie said. “COVID has been devastating to our arts and cultural organizations, and this bill allows them to use the funds and hopefully keep them alive. … There are 1,800 arts organizations around the state and they’re struggling. They’re going to need help to get up and running again.”

Lillie said negotiations with the Senate have resulted in language allowing more flexibility as to how grant recipients can spend their funds.

Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) objected to the amount of land the state has purchased with Legacy funds.

“The DNR is going to be managing another 18,000 acres, and they can’t manage what they’ve got,” Green said. “To continue buying up this property and allowing these funds to go through unchecked is simply not acceptable.”

Lillie responded, “These purchases are very targeted. They may buy land that’s a connecting parcel, and the locals are consulted. There are people who want to buy and want to sell.”

Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont) – a former House Legacy Division chair who is retiring at the end of the session – endorsed the bill, saying, “This is one of the most nonpartisan committees in the Legislature, one that does things to benefit everyone across the state.”

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