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Omnibus legacy bill steps into the spotlight

Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment is roughly at its halfway point.

In 2008, state voters chose to increase their sales taxes by 0.375% and dedicate the proceeds to four funds. They would focus upon preserving habitats, prairies, wetlands and forests; keeping the state’s water clean; enhancing parks and trails; and funding the arts and cultural programming. Included was language saying they would sunset in 2034.

While the amendment stipulates what percentage of the sales tax proceeds would go to each of its four funds, it’s up to the Legislature and governor to determine the specifics of how that money is meted out.

You could call the omnibus legacy finance bill the first draft of this year’s legacy appropriations. It made its debut Friday, receiving a walkthrough by nonpartisan House staff before the House Legacy Finance Committee.

Sponsored by the committee’s chair, Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul), HF1079 was replaced by a delete-all amendment and will go through the process of amendments and additional public testimony after the House returns from its Easter/Passover break.

Its companion, SF971, sponsored by Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources and Legacy Finance Committee.

The additional sales tax revenue approved by voters in 2008 is divided up thus: The Clean Water Fund and the Outdoor Heritage Fund each receive 33%, while the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund gets 19.75% and the Parks and Trails Fund 14.25%.

The divvying up of funds became more complicated this year as projects funded for fiscal year 2020 and ’21 were disrupted by the pandemic, in many cases receiving extensions for activities into fiscal year 2022. Hence, those aforementioned percentages don’t match up as evenly as in most years.

Outdoor Heritage Fund

The largest fund of the bunch for this year is the only one of the four funds that handles its appropriations on an annual rather than biennial basis. So another round of funding will come around in 2022.

The Outdoor Heritage Fund’s proposed $130.8 million appropriation for fiscal year 2022 includes $52.3 million for habitats, $42.8 million for prairies, $22.4 million for wetlands, and $12.5 million for forests.

The largest single project receiving Outdoor Heritage Fund money would be the Department of Natural Resources’ Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program for statewide and metro habitat at $13.4 million. 

Clean Water Fund

Another third of the legacy dollars goes to this fund, although it came in under the Outdoor Heritage Fund’s total when all those calculations were taken into account. Its total appropriation for fiscal year 2022 would be $126.7 million.

No agency would receive a larger single outlay from one fund than what the Clean Water Fund would appropriate to the Board of Water and Soil Resources: $66.2 million. Of that, $21.2 million would be put into grants to watersheds, $12 million to soil and water conservation district administration grants, and $10.8 million for surface and drinking water protection and restoration grants.

The Pollution Control Agency would receive $21.9 million, with $7.2 million earmarked for continued river and lake monitoring and assessment and $6.6 million for watershed restoration and protection. Other recipients would include the Department of Agriculture ($10.3 million), Department of Natural Resources ($9.4 million), and Public Facilities Authority ($8.1 million), most of the latter for point source implementation grants.

Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

Almost half of this fund’s total appropriation of $73.1 million for fiscal year 2022 would go to one recipient: The State Arts Board, which would receive $34.4 million. But calling that “one recipient” is deceiving as the board oversees a plethora of grant programs. With the assistance of its 11 regional arts councils, it distributes funds to several hundred organizations and artists each year.

In fact, the board’s arts and arts access initiatives take the prize for the largest single line item on the spreadsheet for HF1079: $27.5 million. Its arts education grants would get $5.2 million.

The second largest recipient of Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund money would be the Minnesota Historical Society, which would receive $15.6 million in fiscal year 2022. Of that, its statewide history programs would get $6.2 million, its statewide grant programs $6 million.

Parks and Trails Fund

The smallest of the four funds would receive a total appropriation of $56.8 million for fiscal year 2022. It would be divvied up between the DNR ($33.1 million) and the Metropolitan Council ($21.7 million). That $21.7 million for metro area regional parks is the same amount that would be given the DNR for state parks, recreation areas and trails. The DNR would also distribute $10.8 million in grants earmarked for outside the metro area.

Here are some of the bills that went into creating the House omnibus legacy finance bill:

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