House gives Legacy bill final stamp of approval

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First scheduled for floor debate four weeks ago, the House gave the omnibus legacy bill its final stamp of approval Monday afternoon, voting 77-57 to re-pass HF1183*/ SF1051 that would appropriate $496.1 million to fund dozens of arts, parks, trails and natural resources projects during the upcoming biennium.

The bill now goes to the governor.

The allocated money would be divided among four funds endowed by the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment passed by voters in 2008. The appropriations, by fund, are:

  • Clean Water Fund – $194.9 million
  • Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund – $115.9 million
  • Outdoor Heritage Fund – $100.05 million
  • Parks and Trails Fund – $85.1 million

Those amounts were agreed to by a conference committee that hashed out the final differences in the House and Senate versions of the bill Monday morning. It also removed one of the more controversial provisions of the bill, a $51 million appropriation for the Outdoor Heritage Fund in fiscal year 2015 not originally recommended by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.

Opponents argued the appropriation ignored the wishes of the LSOHC, which reviews proposals for funding. However, Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls), who chairs the House Legacy Committee and sponsors the bill in the House, said the Legislature’s role was to change or add to those recommendations as it believed necessary.

She told colleagues that although those funds had been removed, money for habitat restoration in metro parks and funds to combat aquatic invasive species remain.

“Neither of these projects was recommended by the Outdoor Heritage Council and the fact that they’re in this bill represents a big win for the House position of adding legislative priorities into the bill,” Kahn said.

There is also language directing LSOHC to examine transitioning to a biennial recommendation process beginning in fiscal year 2016. The council is required to submit it, and recommendations on heritage fund spending, to House and Senate members by Jan. 1, 2014.

Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) told Kahn he was “disappointed” she had gone around the LSOHC rather than work with it and had produced a “less than perfect” product. “To just go and do $6.3 million for metro parks because you can is wrong,” McNamara said.

The final version of the bill maintains the traditional split of money from the Parks and Trails Fund. Forty percent would go to state parks and trails, 40 percent to parks and trails in the metropolitan area, and 20 percent to parks and trails in Greater Minnesota. As part of an effort to better develop, support and maintain the parks and trails in the latter category, the bill would also establish a Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.

The 13-member commission would establish six regional parks and trails districts in the state, encompassing the area outside the seven-county metropolitan area. It would be comprised of two representatives from each district and one at-large member and would develop a strategic plan determining parks and trails of regional significance that are eligible for funding from the parks and trails fund.

Other appropriations in the bill include:

  • $42.65 million to the Minnesota State Arts Board to support state artists and arts organizations in creating and presenting high-quality arts activities, overcome barriers to accessing them and instill the arts into the community and public life in the state;
  • $33.7 million to the Department of Natural Resources for state parks, trails and recreation areas to connect people to the outdoors, acquire land, create opportunities, maintain existing holdings and implement long-range plans;
  • $20.4 million to the Board of Soil and Water Resources for grants to protect and restore surface water and drinking water, to keep water on the land, enhance and restore water quality;
  • $18 million for the total maximum daily load grant program;
  • $15.2 million for the Pollution Control Agency to complete 20 percent of the statewide assessments of surface water quality and trends;
  • $12 million to the Board of Soil and Water Resources for grants to local government units that have multiyear plans that will result in a significant reduction in water pollution in a selected watershed;
  • $5 million to increase monitoring and evaluation of nitrates in groundwater areas vulnerable to degradation;
  • $4 million for the DNR to install additional monitoring gauges to help determine the relationship between stream flow and groundwater; and
  • $3 million to implement an agricultural water quality certification program.

In the Senate, where Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul) is the sponsor, the bill was passed 43-21 Monday evening.