Legacy funds remain unspent


The legislative session ended with House members unable to agree on how to spend nearly $450 million in Legacy money.

In the waning three hours of the 2011 legislative session, House members voted 119-14 to send the Legacy funding bill back to a conference committee after the chairman of the committee cited concerns with the bill, and said he did not sign the conference report because of a “timing issue.”

“I had questions regarding the open meeting provision,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who supported the motion to refuse to adopt the report.

Then after a short recess, he supported a motion by Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) to reconsider adopting the report and the final hours became a legacy of debate.

HF1061/ SF1363* would remove the requirement that the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council be subject to the Open Meeting Law. Instead, the council would fall under less stringent meeting laws that the Legislature and Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources fall under.

The bill also would strike language adopted last year designed to ensure the unelected council is transparent and accountable for the Legacy funds it receives.

“I have many, many concerns about this,” said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg (R-Lakeville). Holberg is respected by other legislators as being the most knowledgeable about the Open Meeting Law.

Rep. Mary Murphy (DFL-Hermantown) said Bill Becker, the council director, testified that the council had no problem complying with the Open Meeting Law. Some council members have expressed concerns in monthly meetings about trading emails or appearing at the same events when a quorum may be present.

Legislators said there was no urgency to passing the bill prior to the impending adjournment because none of the money appropriated is available until the biennial budget for the appropriate agencies is enacted. Most of the major finance bills are still waiting for action by the governor.

One of the other key issues members objected to was the distribution of the Parks and Trails Fund. Conferees settled on 38 percent for the Department of Natural Resources for state parks; 42 percent for the Metropolitan Council for the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area; and 20 percent distributed to Greater Minnesota as grants for regional parks and trails.

“The metro regional parks are getting hosed … because of the exclusivity of the grants to Greater Minnesota,” said Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada).

After two hours of debating the Legacy bill and with less than an hour before adjournment, Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) summed things up by saying the bill is indicative of the divisiveness reflected in the 2011 session.