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Legacy agreement reached and ready for the special session

Among the 13 conference committees tasked with forging compromises between what passed the House and Senate this year, only one knew months ago how much money it would be disbursing: the Legacy committee.

That’s because its funds aren’t tied to any particular budget target or federal influx of cash. It’s simply the revenue collected from 0.375% of state sales taxes. That’s what Minnesota voters decided in a 2008 statewide referendum, and the money has since been allocated to promote clean water, prairies, forests, wetlands, parks, trails, the arts and cultural heritage.

That total for fiscal year 2022 is $382.5 million. But that doesn’t mean conferees quickly agreed on how to divvy it up.

“We had 17 offers back and forth,” Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) said at Friday’s meeting of the House Legacy Finance Committee. “But we reached an agreement with the Senate, and I think we have a very solid bill.”

That agreement was presented to the committee Friday, and Lillie said his understanding is that a yet-to-be-introduced bill will be heard by the House Ways and Means Committee Monday when, it is expected, the Legislature will convene in a special session. He also said he expects the bill would soon be debated on the floors of the House and Senate.

Per the final agreement, the four funds would receive in fiscal year 2022:

  • $127.8 million for the Outdoor Heritage Fund;
  • $126.7 million for the Clean Water Fund;
  • $73.1 million for the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund; and
  • $54.8 million for the Parks and Trails Fund.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) wasn’t happy with how the agreement was put together.

“I thought we should have had more meetings,” he said. “There was no reason for us to even have a committee.”

Lillie agreed about the lack of meetings, saying “I like the public format for conference committees. Both sides would have gained from having more public. … But there are so many great things in this bill. … For example, we’ve lost a lot of young people to not knowing how to swim. … We added more money for swim lessons. … And I’m super excited about the River Watch and Appetite for Change.”

While the House and Senate bills were very similar, here are the chief changes between the bills that passed in the House and Senate.

Outdoor Heritage Fund

Appropriations for this fund — the only one of the four funded on an annual rather than biennial basis — were identical between the two bills in the categories of prairies, forests and wetlands. But, under “Habitats,” the House has withdrawn its proposal that $3 million go to first-time applicants to the Department of Natural Resources’ Conservation Partners Legacy Grant program.

Based upon House Legacy Finance Committee discussions, the motivation was the program was funding too many of the same organizations annually, and the belief was that such an earmark would broaden and diversify the field.

Clean Water Fund

While this fund divides its allocations among nine agencies or entities, the biggest changes in the final agreement would come under funding for the Board of Water and Soil Resources.

It’s become an annual debate in the House as to whether it’s appropriate to use Clean Water Fund money to support the ongoing operations of the state’s soil and water conservation districts. In its original bill, the House allocated $12 million for such administration grants, but only for fiscal year 2022, not 2023. The Senate bill would allocate $12 million each year, and the House concurred in the final agreement.

When you add in other changes, the board would receive $10.3 million more in the 2022-23 biennium than in the House bill. Among the other significant changes in BWSR funding: The Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program would receive $9.9 million less for the biennium from the Clean Water Fund than the Senate proposed, but $3.6 million more than the House. And the Senate lowered its total for grants to watersheds by $3.4 million.

Meanwhile, the Senate had no funding for wetland restoration easements or enhancing landowner adoption of cover crops, but the agreement would allocate $5.7 million for the former and $4 million for the latter.

And the Metropolitan Council would receive $5 million less than the House planned, as grants for inflow and infiltration and lead service line replacement were eliminated.

Parks and Trails Fund

In recent years, this has become the least controversial of the four funds, primarily because the three agencies receiving funding annually come to an agreement as to how the funds should be meted out and present their proposal to the Legislature for its approval.

Hence, very little changes, but this year’s agreement does alter some numbers. The most significant change is that the House agreed to reduce its total for “coordination among partners” in DNR programs by $83,000.

Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

The House’s increased emphasis upon looking at issues through an equity lens this session showed up prominently in its proposed funding for the Minnesota Humanities Center. It had earmarked $3.6 million in fiscal year 2022 for “Community Identity and Heritage Grants” that would fund specific organizations engaged in cultural programming related to the state’s Asian-Pacific Island, Somali and African immigrant, Indigenous, African American, Latinx and BIPOC/underrepresented communities.

The Senate bill contained no such earmarks and neither does the final agreement, which would fund a competitive grant program at $2.5 million instead.

The Department of Administration would receive $1.5 million more during the biennium than the House originally proposed, with Minnesota Public Television, Minnesota Public Radio and AMPERS Public Radio getting most of the increase.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Historical Society would receive $1.1 million less during the biennium than the Senate proposed, but $22,000 more than the House had.

Policy

The agreement also contains language that would:

  • stipulate that Outdoor Heritage Fund money cannot be used to purchase land subject to a conservation easement;
  • extend a multipurpose water management appropriation for a project in Waseca County;
  • require the Clean Water Council to file a legislative report on high-resolution digital elevation data;
  • fund the Proctor-Hermantown Munger Trail Spur and extend several Parks and Trails Fund projects; and
  • define historic preservation corps as governmental units.

The big projects

Under the agreement, these projects would receive the largest dollar totals for fiscal year 2022:

  • State Arts Board arts and arts access initiatives, $27.5 million;
  • DNR state parks, recreation areas and trails, $21.7 million;
  • Metropolitan Council for metro area regional parks, $21.7 million;
  • Board of Water and Soil Resources grants to watersheds, $21.2 million;
  • soil and water conservation district administration grants, $12 million;
  • DNR grants for parks and trails outside the metro area, $10.9 million;
  • BWSR surface and drinking water protection/restoration grants, $10.8 million; and
  • DNR Conservation Partners Legacy grant program, $10.4 million.

 

 


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