Outdoors, arts funding bill victim of time
ST. PAUL - Time expired on the 2011 Minnesota legislative session before the House could vote on a bill to provide $450 million in sales tax proceeds for arts, clean water, outdoor projects and parks and trails.
After earning quick passage in the Senate Monday afternoon, the House debated the so-called legacy bill heatedly before temporarily voting to send the bill back to negotiators for further work Monday night.
Less than an hour later, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, asked his colleagues to reconsider that decision. They did by four votes.
"This is a very good bill," said McNamara, who helped negotiate the bill. "It does lots of really good stuff."
Further discussion could not bring consensus and the House adjourned before voting.
Two provisions in the bill were particularly controversial.
For one, the bill guaranteed $15 million for greater Minnesota parks and trails.
Several lawmakers wanted those funds open to urban parks and trails as well.
Others had concerns about whether the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council should be subject to the state's open meetings law.
The parks and trails portion of the sales tax allocation has been contentious since voters approved the sales tax increase in 2008 because greater Minnesota lawmakers say their areas were not receiving a fair share of the proceeds.
This year's bill dedicated more than $15 million to greater Minnesota parks during the next two years, or 20 percent of the total parks and trails budget. Previous legacy appropriations did not guarantee funds for greater Minnesota parks.
"This was the most contentious part of the solution to the whole bill," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, who co-chaired the negotiating committee. "There are great arguments on both sides."
Dan Larson, lobbyist for greater Minnesota parks and trails and administrator of the Minnesota Rural Counties Caucus, said he thinks rural areas deserve more money but added that having at least some dedicated funding is an improvement.
"It is much better than it was," he said.
Another proposal in the bill changed the meeting format for the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. Meetings still would be open to the public under the bill, but they will function under the rules of the Legislature rather than more stringent open meetings laws.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, who co-chaired the committee, said that puts the council on par with other environmental committees that disperse funds. Critics from both parties say it will reduce transparency.
"For the amount of money and for the amount of public interest that they conduct it should all be under the open meeting law," said Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown.
Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, said she has several problems with the change, including that it wipes out language passed last year allowing members to exchange information but not discuss decision points while traveling to view different projects.
Overall, the bill dedicated $179 million toward projects to maintain the state's clean water and nearly $105 million to arts and cultural heritage. The legacy amendment bill also included $87 million toward outdoors projects and $78 million for parks and trails.
Sen. Kathy Sheran, DFL-Mankato, was critical of a provision that would authorize $1 million for the Children's Museum of Minnesota while requiring three similar children's museums in greater Minnesota to compete for $1 million in funding through a grant process.
"It really shortchanges these children's museums," Sheran said.
Sen. Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, criticized the committee for withholding funds allocated from the bill until the overall state budget is settled.
Ingebrigtsen said committee members thought it would be easier to avoid the appearance that legacy funds were being used to replace general budget funds rather than supplement, as required by the legacy amendment.
The legacy bill also provided $500,000 for studying safe sulfate levels in waters that contain wild rice.
A separate environment budget bill allocates another $1 million for that study along with a proposal that temporarily raises the allowable sulfate level while the study is being conducted. That bill is awaiting a signature or veto from Gov. Mark Dayton.
Andrew Tellijohn is a Twin Cities freelance writer.