The 2016 Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage bill is being considered in conference committee.
As detailed in previous updates, I authored a handful of amendments that were adopted on the bill. One would require open hearings in counties and communities before the state may acquire land. This would give citizens opportunity to have their concerns addressed, and gain a better understanding of the local impact. The second would require county board approval before the sale is final.
Currently, over 25% of Minnesota is no longer privately owned—and that number is growing. This year’s legacy appropriation will spend approximately $80 million to purchase 12,000 more acres. The Department of Natural Resources admits they do not have the capability to manage existing properties.
In an effort at improving transparency, the highly respected, non-partisan Legislative Auditor conducted an audit to better understand how Legacy dollars are spent and utilized by entities receiving funds. This report was completed in 2011 and the six main findings are as follows:
The Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, and Board of Water and Soil Resources did not ensure that certain costs paid with money appropriated from Legacy funds complied with the restricted uses of those funds.
The Pollution Control Agency and Board of Water and Soil Resources made unauthorized advances of Legacy money to grantees.
The Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency, and Board of Water and Soil Resources paid some grantees for costs without ensuring that the costs complied with the restrictions applicable to the uses of Legacy funds.
The Department of Natural Resources did not accurately pay some reimbursement requests for grants from the Outdoor Heritage Fund.
The Pollution Control Agency did not sufficiently monitor whether a grantee complied with statutory match requirements.
The Department of Natural Resources did not adequately safeguard state warrants by employees for land acquisition closings.
If you wish to read into more detail, this report can be found here
Furthermore, the Legislative Auditor is preforming an additional audit on the Outdoor Heritage Clean Water, and Parks and Trails which is expected to be completed this August. I have hopes that the issues found in the 2011 audit have been resolved and we will be able to see how and where our money is being spent.
Since coming to the legislature in 2012, it has been my goal to inform Minnesotans of the massive amounts of land the state is buying every year and how Legacy fund recipients have been misusing taxpayer funds. As you can see, we still have work to do, but I am hopeful that the important reforms in this year’s bill will remain through conference committee as they will go far in addressing many of our concerns.
Please be sure to contact me if you have questions or comments regarding this issue or any other matter before the legislature. I can be reached by phone at 651-296-9918
or via email at email@example.com