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Legacy spending differences

Published (5/20/2011)
By Sue Hegarty
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How to divide Legacy funds on parks and trails for the next two years is now in the hands of a conference committee.

The parks and trails fund is shared by the Department of Natural Resources and the Metropolitan Council. Overall, $38 million is at stake each year of the next biennium. The DNR is appropriated 42 percent for state park operations, which are primarily in Greater Minnesota; the Metropolitan Council receives 42 percent for regional park operations within the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area; and the remaining 16 percent is distributed by the DNR as statewide competitive grants.

In HF1061/ SF1363*, the Senate is proposing a 39 percent split between the state parks and seven-county regional parks. That would leave 22 percent of the money for the competitive grant program. That could result in more funds flowing to the 80 counties outside the metro area.

The Senate approved its bill 52-14 May 12 before the House amended and passed the bill 86-45 two days later.

Rep. Bev Scalze (DFL-Little Canada) said the Senate position is not fair to the metropolitan area, which generates 65 percent of the revenue and has 55 percent of the population. She wants to keep the split a 42-42-16 division.

Rural legislators complained that you can’t count the state parks as rural regional parks, so they feel the scale is already tipped in the metro’s favor.

“Rural parks are getting a crumb. We’re asking for a slightly bigger crumb. We don’t think that’s unfair,” said Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Nelson Township). He added that some of the sales tax generated in the seven-county metropolitan area is because Greater Minnesota residents shop, dine or attend events in the area.

Rep. Dean Urdahl (R-Grove City), who sponsors the bill with Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria), said the DNR and council have proffered an agreement to divide the percentages 41-41-18 in fiscal year 2012 and 40-40-20 in fiscal year 2013.

“Each side has compelling arguments. There is no magic percentage,” Urdahl said. “I could have gone far to one side like the Senate, but I didn’t. We need to maintain the agreement that we’ve reached.”

Rep. Jim Davnie (DFL-Mpls) asked members to take off their rural, urban and suburban hats and be good stewards of the parks based on where the need is. “The dollars should follow the utilization because that’s where the wear and tear occurs.”

Urdahl was quick to point out that the funds are “extra” money and must not substitute traditional funding for parks and trails. He added that due to increases in sales tax receipts, parks and trails recipients could see an increase in Legacy funding even with lower percentages.

Another area of the bill where the House and Senate differ is in the outdoor heritage fund portion. The House bill sets aside $759,000 more than the Senate to pay for ongoing costs associated with purchasing additional land with Legacy funds.

An amendment successfully offered by Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) would prohibit the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council from recommending new land acquisitions outside the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area for the next 10 years. Rep. Rick Hansen (DFL-South St. Paul) successfully amended the proposal to a 1-year moratorium after Rep. Denny McNamara (R-Hastings) said, “We do not want to tie the hands of future legislators.”

Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) successfully amended the language to allow for the purchase of school trust lands in Greater Minnesota during the moratorium.

Hansen also succeeded in deleting a $600,000 appropriation from the DNR for outreach and education, and using the funds instead to increase the purchase of permanent conservation easements to protect drinking water.

In the arts and cultural heritage portion of the bill, Rep. Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley) successfully amended the bill to delete the $2.8 million county fair grant program and add the funds for capital improvements for two veterans’ camps, the Disabled Veterans Rest Camp on Big Marine Lake in Washington County and the Veterans on the Lake campground on Fall Lake in Ely. The camps offer active and veteran service members and their families a place to come together and recreate.

Requiring the DNR commissioner to agree in writing to each proposed easement acquisition purchased with Legacy funds was successfully amended by Rep. Jean Wagenius (DFL-Mpls).

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