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Money matches up in House, Senate Legacy bills — but not where to spend it

No targets necessary. While most conference committees are awaiting word from legislative leaders on their budget targets, the Legacy Conference Committee has known how much money it’s authorized to spend for quite some time now.

That’s because that money comes via the Legacy Amendment. Back in 2008, Minnesota voters supported an increase in the state sales tax by 0.375% and earmarking the extra money for preservation of outdoor habitat, clean water, parks, trails, the arts and cultural heritage projects.

Hence, both the Senate and House Legacy Finance committees were working with the same total … sort of. In the end, the House omnibus bill came in at $385.4 million for fiscal year 2022, the Senate bill at $382.4 million. That $3 million difference is entirely in the Outdoor Heritage Fund.

On Wednesday, a conference committee met for the first time for a walkthrough and comparison of HF1079/SF971*, sponsored by Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL-North St. Paul) and Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point). Except for that disparity in the Outdoor Heritage Fund category — $130.8 million in the House bill, $127.8 million in the Senate — the fiscal year 2022 totals are consistent between the two bills for the other three Legacy funds: $126.7 million for the Clean Water Fund, $73.1 million for the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund, and $54.8 million for the Parks and Trails Fund.

That said, how they choose to spend that money differs between the two bills.

Outdoor Heritage Fund

This fund designed to “restore, protect and enhance wetlands, prairies, forests and habitat for fish, game and wildlife” receives 33% of the Legacy funds. The House and Senate bills align very closely in this area, mostly accepting the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. This is the only Legacy fund that receives its appropriations on an annual rather than biennial basis.

The House bill has $3 million more under the “Habitats” heading earmarked for first-time applicants to the DNR’s Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program. That outlay seems inspired by questions in House hearings about whether the Outdoor Heritage Fund was considering enough new applicants, particularly those from communities of color.

Clean Water Fund

This fund also receives 33% of Legacy dollars, with the purpose of protecting, enhancing and restoring water quality in lakes, rivers and streams, and protecting groundwater from degradation. At least 5% of the fund must be spent to protect drinking water sources.

The $126.7 million of fiscal year 2022 funding in this area is divided among nine recipients: The state’s Agriculture, Natural Resources and Health departments, Board of Water and Soil Resources, Pollution Control Agency, Public Facilities Authority, University of Minnesota, Metropolitan Council, and Legislative Coordinating Commission.

Among them, the biggest difference between the two bills is in the Board of Water and Soil Resources, where the Senate wants to spend $4.2 million more in the next fiscal year than the House. In the Senate bill, but not in the House, is $6.1 million for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. And, while both bills fund grants to watersheds, the Senate puts $2.3 million more toward that than does the House.

But the House bill does have its own Board of Water and Soil Resources projects that the Senate doesn’t.

It contains $2.4 million for wetland restoration easements, $2 million for enhancing landowner adoption of cover crops, and $2.4 million each in fiscal year 2023 for three different soil health practice initiatives related to protection of groundwater, surface water and sustainable forestry for both.

Another difference in funding for fiscal year 2023 is the House’s proposed allocation of $2.5 million to the Metropolitan Council for inflow and infiltration grants, and another $2.5 million for lead service line replacement grants. The House also has $1.4 million for the University of Minnesota to study chronic wasting disease in water.

The House would also allocate $544,000 to the Pollution Control Agency in fiscal year 2022 for microplastics and nanoplastics protocols, a number that would rise to $1.6 million in fiscal year 2023.

Parks and Trails Fund

This fund receives 14.25% of the Legacy money, and it must be used to support parks and trails of regional and statewide significance. The divvying up of that money has proven a successful agreement between the DNR (40%), Metropolitan Council (40%) and Greater Minnesota regional parks and trails (20%).

Both bills contain $54.8 million in funding for fiscal year 2022, the lone differences being that the House has $14,000 more for the DNR, while the Senate has $14,000 more for the Metropolitan Council.

Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

The recipient of 19.75% of Legacy money, this fund supports the arts, arts education and arts access, and preserves the state’s history and cultural heritage.

Of the $73.1 million allocated to the fund in each bill, the biggest difference is funding for the Minnesota Humanities Center, which would receive $1.5 million more from the House. That’s chiefly a result of the House’s $1.6 million more in “community identity and heritage grants” administered by the center.

Those grants are closely tied to equity efforts that have surfaced in a lot of legislation this session, and would be earmarked for organizations working in the cultural heritage of Asian-Pacific Island, Somali and African immigrant, Indigenous, African American, Latinx and other underrepresented communities.

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