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House passes Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations without formal commission recommendation

(House Photography file photo)
(House Photography file photo)

Voting on a proposal that received the highest scores from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, the House passed the yearly appropriations bill from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund on Thursday.

Each year, the commission provides recommendations on how to appropriate money from the fund, which is created by proceeds from the state lottery. This year, the 17-member commission comprised of legislators and citizens couldn’t agree on a formal recommendation for the funds in fiscal year 2023.

Sponsored by Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul), HF3765 represents the proposal that received the highest vote total from the commission. Ten members voted in favor of the proposal, two short of the requirement for a formal recommendation.

The House passed the bill 72-60 and sent it to the Senate. It would appropriate $70.88 million from the fund to pay for several programs.

“There’s things I like that didn’t get scored high and there’s things I don’t like that scored high,” Hansen said. “But we’ve all gone to school. We all get a passing grade and that’s what’s in front of us. We’re going by merit. We’re going by those scores.”

The bill would appropriate:

  • $26.47 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;
  • $10.33 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 issue of not receiving a formal recommendation was a sticking point in House committee and floor debates. Rep. Josh Heintzeman (R-Nisswa) said the commission hasn’t provided a formal recommendation two of the last three years.

“We could be looking at a continuation of a trend that, quite honestly, will do just as you’re describing, create a scenario where the Senate’s going to have their version,” Heintzeman said. “Rep. Hansen, you have your version of what you think the bill should be and that’s a recipe for gridlock.”

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

Hansen said he knows reconciling the two bills will be very difficult.

“What I’m bringing to you here, again, are the items that got the most votes, that got a majority but not the supermajority. Maybe the supermajority was too much to ask in today’s divided climate.”

The commission received 189 project 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.

“I’ve been on LCCMR for a couple years and it certainly has been a frustrating task,” said Rep. Tama Theis (R-St. Cloud). “There are really a lot of projects that I think are worthy, and then there are some I really do question. What really is kind of upsetting is there isn’t a lot of compromise of what we want to see and what we want to do. A lot of it is done on a score and it’s easy to see where the line gets drawn.”

Hansen agreed with Heintzeman that the commission is not working properly and said reform is needed. But Hansen believes his bill represents the best option for this year.

“On the whole, this is a good bill,” Hansen said. “It’s got some great things in it. Could it be better? Yes. Every piece of legislation could be better. I think we need to reform the LCCMR. I think we need to do that before we bring the question to the ballot to the people of Minnesota to say that we could do better, we’re going to demonstrate we’re going to do better, we’re going to make those changes and that we can do our job as legislators by finding the things that we can agree on and pass those into law. Send them to the governor this year and show that we can do our work.”

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