House passes legacy bill, appropriating $540 million for upcoming biennium
By Jonathan Mohr
Rep. Dean Urdahl, chair of the House Legacy Funding Finance Committee, explains provisions of the omnibus legacy finance bill, HF303, during debate on the House Floor April 30. Photo by Paul Battaglia
A flurry of friendly amendments were adopted and, although attempts to change some of the more controversial provisions of HF303 were not, the omnibus legacy bill received strong bipartisan support as the House passed it 97-31 Thursday afternoon.
HF303 would appropriate nearly $540 million from the legacy fund for the environment, arts, parks, trails and other state resources for the biennium in the following manner:
Clean Water Fund — $226.2 million
Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund — $124.01 million
Outdoor Heritage Fund — $99.9 million
Parks and Trails Fund — $89.4 million
These funds were created by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment in 2008. It increased the state sales tax by three-eighths of 1 percent until 2034, distributing the revenue raised to each fund based percentages defined in the state constitution. Three of the funds receive biennial appropriations, while the OHF is an annual appropriation.
Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), sponsor of HF303 and chair of the House Legacy Funding Finance Committee, said that although the bill still needs work, it is transparent and fair.
House floor session - part 2
“I don’t think the perfect bill has ever been before this body,” Urdahl said.
Earlier this session, Urdahl said feelings of entitlement have been growing among some groups who had received money in the past, and recipients need to understand there is never a reduction in legacy funding because the baseline for each group is zero. He echoed those sentiments Thursday.
Urdahl also said there were $28 million more in funding requests than legacy dollars available and roughly 90 percent of the money will go to Greater Minnesota, which might seem out of line until people realize 90 percent of the projects and habitat take place and are located there.
An amendment to the bill, offered by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), that would have deleted a section removing voting authority from two members of the Clean Water Council — a representative from the University of Minnesota and one from the Metropolitan Council — failed on a roll-call vote.
Hansen said HF303 would leave only special interests with a voice on the CWC, which makes funding recommendations to help implement programs and policies working to achieve improved water quality, and that removing the voting privileges from those members would harm the process.
Rep. Rick Hansen speaks to the omnibus legacy finance bill on the House floor April 30. Photo by Andrew VonBank
“They provide the science that’s needed as we make these tough water quality decisions,” Hansen said.
However, Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) defended that provision saying the university and the Met Council have a conflict of interest on the board because each has received direct appropriations from the Clean Water Fund.
Hansen said the program funds “real projects on the ground for real farmers” and was having a positive impact. He also said by not fully funding the program, the state would lose out on $9 million in federal money that could be brought in to match state dollars.
Torkelson agreed the program had merit, but said he was uncomfortable fully funding it until questions about how the program could feasibly be rolled out statewide were answered.
“I’m not interested in overspending on something that only reaches a portion of our producers,” Torkelson said.
Several amendments to the bill were adopted, they include:
A33 – it requires the Board of Water and Soil Resources to contract with the Conservation Corps of Minnesota for up to $1 million during the upcoming biennium for restoration and maintenance activities;
A34 – it requires the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission to submit a ranked list of projects to legislative leaders containing recommendations for funding from the Parks and Trails Fund for Fiscal Year 2017;
A35 – it requires the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission to submit a report to legislative leaders with criteria for funding from the Parks and Trails Fund, including criteria used to determine if a park or trail is of regional significance; and
A36 – it adds language that says, when feasible, recipients of legacy funds are encouraged to use conservation practices that promote butterfly habitat, including planting and maintaining vegetation beneficial to monarchs and minimizing the use of pesticides.
mandate a study of alternatives to the current payment-in-lieu of taxes system for reimbursing counties for lost tax revenue when the state purchases land in their jurisdiction. The study must include examination of a trust-fund approach that would create accounts counties could use to pay for the ongoing costs associated with land acquisition;
direct the Board of Water and Soil Resources to work with local, state and federal agencies, groups and stakeholders to “foster mutual understanding” and provide standardized specifications for water quality, soil conservation protections and improvements;