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Minnesota Zoo could get another state funding boost

With its revenue expected to stay below pre-pandemic levels into at least 2023, the Minnesota Zoo could get another infusion of state funding this year and a nearly $10 million funding increase next biennium.

HF1989, sponsored by Rep. John Huot (DFL-Rosemount), would increase the zoo's fiscal year 2021 allocation by $1.6 million and boost its General Fund allocation from $19.6 million this biennium to $29.5 million next biennium.

On Thursday, the bill was laid over for possible omnibus bill inclusion by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee. Its companion, SF1934, is sponsored by Sen. Greg Clausen (DFL-Apple Valley) and awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee.

"This support would allow us to sustain the zoo and kind of work to recover as the vaccine unfolds and our capacity is increased," said John Frawley, the zoo's executive director and CEO.

The zoo, which relies on state funds for about one-third of its $30 million operating budget, saw revenue drop by millions when it closed for four months last year because of COVID-19. As a state agency, it does not qualify for Paycheck Protection Program loans.

It saved $8 million by halting and delaying projects, laying off staff and reducing staff hours, and it received $6 million in state COVID-19 relief funds to sustain operations. But visitors, memberships and school programs and events are expected to stay below pre-pandemic levels for at least a couple of years.

Huot said he's confident zoo leaders will responsibly use the additional funding. "I've never seen anybody more that we can trust with these state assets," he said.

Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud) said the state needs to reopen so families can have money to visit the zoo. "I hope things change soon," she said.

The bill would also dedicate $380,000 next biennium from the Natural Resources Fund to the zoo.

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