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Trees from start to finish

Published (5/20/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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The House voted 72-61 May 18 to accept a conference committee report that would transfer about $30 million of account balances into the General Fund and would close one of the state’s two tree nurseries.

The proposals are part of HF1010*/ SF1029, the omnibus environment, energy and natural resources finance bill sponsored by Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria). It passed the Senate 35-28 May 19 and now awaits action by the governor.

Under the bill, $14 million would be transferred in fiscal year 2012 from the state’s worker’s compensation assigned risk plan, followed by $9 million in fiscal year 2013.

“They were fund balances in accounts where the money was no longer needed,” McNamara said. “We’re using unspent balances.”

Other General Fund transfers would come from the Renewable Development Fund and the auto theft prevention account.

The funds are distributed as grants to local governments for auto theft prevention efforts. Sheriffs and attorneys testified that the program is working, and they did not want to see the grants reduced. However, a $1.5 million fund balance is expected at the end of this fiscal year, according to Tim Jahnke, financial management director for the Department of Commerce. Jahnke said in committee that more than $3.4 million is expected to be awarded in grants, the same as previous years.

Telecommunications Access Minnesota has a fund balance from collecting a 10-cent fee per call. Jahnke said the department had hoped to lower the fee to 4 or 6 cents to draw down the fund balance. With the proposed transfer of $1.1 million to the General Fund, Jahnke said the fees could still be reduced, just not as much as previously planned.

Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) raised a broader policy question about how the finance bill is interrelated to other bills, such as the Legacy funding bill and the omnibus state government finance bill. Cuts to agencies combined with Legacy funding may be construed as supplanting and leave the state open to court challenges, Winkler said.

Instead of using $3 million to develop the new Lake Vermilion State Park, the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources appropriation would be diverted to prevent the closure of more established state parks.

Rep. David Dill (DFL-Crane Lake), whose district includes the new state park, said funds to develop “the most beautiful shoreline in the state are being raided to keep other parks open.”

The Department of Natural Resources questioned whether the rerouting of funds would go against the statutory rule that LCCMR funds not replace traditional sources of funding.

Tree nurseries

Dill said he refused to sign the conference committee report because it would take funds away from the timber industry, which earns money for the General Fund. He said paper companies and related businesses depend upon the state’s timber industry to stay competitive in a global market.

According to the bill, the General C.C. Andrews state tree nursery would close by June 30, 2013, and a phase-out plan for the remaining Badoura state tree nursery would be required if management operations draw down more than 10 percent of its reserves in two consecutive fiscal years.

Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township) called the state nursery closing a “job killer.” Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls) opposed a provision that would sell excess tree stock to licensed nurseries and not to private citizens. No more than 2 percent of sales could be deciduous trees.

In committee, McNamara said there is no reason for the state to compete with the private sector for deciduous tree sales.

Permitting and agency cuts

Other areas of the bill include changes to permit policies.

Cuts proposed to state agencies, such as the DNR and the Board of Water and Soil Resources, could result in layoffs and slow processing of state permits, which is counter-productive to the streamlining of permits enabled by HF1 and the governor’s executive order, Wagenius said.

“We need government to live within its means,” said McNamara.

Another provision would raise the number of signatures required by petitioners for an environmental assessment worksheet from 25 to 100 signatures. Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls) said changes to the environmental review policies are a “steady erosion of citizen engagement” that started with HF1.

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