By Rep. Dean Urdahl
Most legislative committee chairs spent the biennium agonizing over how to make ends meet amid a short budget. My situation was different.
The challenge I faced as chair of the Legacy Division was responsibly appropriating nearly $560 million this biennium. Legacy revenue is derived from the three-eighths of 1 percent sales-tax increase voters approved in 2008 to fund projects pertaining to habitat; water; arts, history and culture; and parks and trails.
It is imperative to disperse this funding in a transparent, accountable manner, supporting the spirit of the bill; we must supplement, not supplant funding. I believe the bills we enacted the last two years lived up to the public’s expectations. We even improved upon the appropriation model we inherited in 2011.
Our biennial appropriations provided in 2011 and 2012 included: $187.1 million, outdoors heritage; $185.4 million, clean water; 107.1 million, arts and cultural heritage; and $78.2 million, parks and trails.
Included in this year's round of appropriations are the following recommendations: $24.6 million, prairies; $15.3 million, forests; $31.1 million, wetlands; $28.6 million, habitat; $220,000, administration.
One of the most important components of the 2012 bill combats aquatic invasive species, namely silver and bighead carp. Provisions include $3.8 million for a University of Minnesota research study and $7.5 million to fund carp barriers.
We implemented key improvements this biennium to provide more transparency and accountability in how Legacy money is used. One new measure requires a report of how funds are being spent to be posted on a website (www.legacy.leg.mn), making it easier for citizens and legislators to track project funding. We also have instituted a grants program where entities can compete for available revenue.
The Legacy Amendment is a helpful tool for us to support important areas at a time the state's budget is pinched. Much of this money is sent to Greater Minnesota, including 90 percent of the habitat funding. We continue going to great lengths to ensure the Legacy money is being used as intended. Taxpayers deserve to have the money they provide put to the best-possible use and the transparency measures we now have in place will help people track our appropriations.
I am pleased with our final products and was humbled to receive a Minnesota Recreation and Parks Association award for our efforts.