ST. PAUL – Leading conservation lawmakers announced today the Legislature will pass the "Legacy Act" this week. The bill will put a constitutional amendment on the November ballot which, if passed by voters, would dedicate a portion of the state sales tax (0.375 percent) to Minnesota's environment and natural resources, parks, and the arts.
"A decade of hard work has finally paid off," stated State Representative Jean Wagenius, who chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division. "The choice to invest in Minnesota's natural resources will finally be in the hands of voters this November."
Minnesota's environmental funding has declined in recent years at a time when the complexity, size, and expense of environmental challenges have increased substantially. Climate change, impaired waters, invasive species, forest fragmentation, new and persistent chemicals in drinking water, and a number of other environmental challenges present the Legislature with tough fiscal choices as it works to preserve Minnesota's natural resources. Proponents of the "Legacy Act" believe the state must provide consistent and coherent long-term funding in order to adequately address these issues.
"Reliable funding to enhance and protect our natural environment has never been more important," said State Representative Frank Moe who co-authored the legislation. "If passed by Minnesota voters, this amendment will finally establish a reliable funding mechanism capable of providing sustainable resources for our environment well into the future. Our children will inherit and enjoy the same prairies, streams, and ten-thousand lakes Minnesotans have always enjoyed."
Funding provided by this new constitutional amendment would be dedicated to the following permanent funds:
· Outdoor Heritage Fund – 33 percent to be spent only to restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for game, fish and wildlife.
· Clean Water Fund – 33 percent to be spent only to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams, with at least 5 percent of the fund spent to protect drinking water sources.
· Parks and Trails Fund – 14.25 percent to be spent only to support parks and trails of regional or statewide significance.
· Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund – 19.75 percent to be spent only for arts, arts education and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota's history and cultural heritage.
An important component of the "Legacy Act" is the long-term commitment of critical funding for efforts to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) over 40 percent of Minnesota's lakes, rivers, and streams are considered "impaired." In the last two years, 300 bodies of water in Minnesota have been newly added to the state's impaired waters list. Despite this troubling news, there is not enough funding available to solve the problem. Proponents of the "Legacy Act" are hopeful that this new constitutional amendment will change all that.
"The challenges facing our lakes, rivers, and streams are real," said State Representative Rick Hansen who chairs the House Watersheds, Wetlands, and Buffers Subcommittee. "Without the necessary investments to address these problems, our unique water resources would be in serious danger of further impairment and irreversible damage. By dedicating essential funding, we can begin to reverse the damage done already, and aggressively prevent additional deterioration of water quality statewide."
The "Legacy Act" was moved off the House floor and sent to conference committee when the House convened to begin the 2008 legislative session today. The committee made up of a bipartisan group of legislators from both the House and Senate will approve the final language. Final passage of the conference report is scheduled in both bodies for Thursday, February 14, 2008.
AGENDA: Tuesday, February 12, 2008
– Bill moved off House floor
– Conference committee convenes and drafts final bill
Thursday, February 14, 2008
– Final passage of the "Legacy Act"