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Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations OK’d despite no LCCMR recommendation

Each year, the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources provides recommendations on how to appropriate money from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

However, the 17-member commission comprised of legislators and citizens couldn’t agree on a formal recommendation for the funds in fiscal year 2023.

Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), a commission member, sponsors HF3765 that, as amended, would appropriate $70.88 million from the fund – created by proceeds from the state lottery – to pay for several programs that received the highest scores from project proposal review.

It was approved 12-6 Tuesday by the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee and referred to the House Ways and Means Committee.

“This is the highest-ranking score, the highest-ranking vote of all the effort, a very frustrating effort, that went on last year,” Hansen said. “I wish we could have a unanimous vote like we did in 2021, but this is the cards we were dealt. I wish we could have come to an agreement, but we weren’t. It’s important for these projects and the project proposers, and to the Minnesotans who voted for this amendment and hopefully will vote for another amendment in the future, that we pick the best projects and that’s what I think this proposal does.”

The commission received 189 proposals accounting for $142 million in requests, according to Rebecca Nash, the commission director. Requests were whittled down to 99 proposals for $106 million and scored.

“In general, what this [bill] does, is it fully funds the top-ranking scores and then it funds a next tier with a 10% cut and then it funds a second tier with a 20% cut to allow some of the lower-ranked scores to get filled,” Hansen said.

The bill would appropriate:

  • $26.1 million for 10 projects relating to land acquisition, habitat and recreation;
  • $14.44 million for 14 projects relating to methods to protect, restore and enhance land, water and habitat;
  • $10.7 million for 18 projects relating to foundational natural resources data and information;
  • $6.45 million for 15 projects relating to water resources;
  • $6.4 million for two projects relating to aquatic and terrestrial invasive species;
  • $4.64 million for 12 projects relating to environmental education;
  • $1.77 million for two projects relating to air quality and renewable energy; and
  • $382,000 for two appropriations to the Department of Natural Resources for administrative and emerging issues.

The appropriations received at least 10 commission votes, falling short of the 12 needed for a formal recommendation by the commission.

“This represents a still very controversial proposal, at least from my perspective, within the LCCMR and the fundamental difference in why it didn’t get over 12,” said Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin). “This is my personal opinion as a member, is simply it does not reach down small enough, in the smaller programs, and it, frankly, sends too much big-picture money to the major folks out there.”

Hansen believes funding should be merit-based and according to scores of the commission review.

“Do we spend the time and the effort to do the best, and pick the best, or do we see that this special constitutional money should be spread around? I believe we should pick the best. That’s what Minnesotans want.”

Based on another set of commission recommendations, the companion, SF4043, sponsored by Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake), awaits action by the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee.

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