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Capitol Notebook: Parks funding prompts rural-urban fight

Sen. Katie Sieben of Cottage Grove studies her computer Saturday as fellow Minnesota senators debate a variety of issues. Photo by Don Davis/State Capitol Bureau

ST. PAUL -- Rural and urban state representatives fought over parks and trails money during their first Saturday session of 2011.

Rep. Torrey Westrom, R-Elbow Lake, accused Twin Cities lawmakers of being "extra greedy."

Rep. Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, fired back that the urban and suburban area provides the state's economic basis, but is "getting the shaft" when it comes to money returning to her area. "This is the time to defend the metro."

Westrom retorted that the Twin Cities area has more jobs and other advantages.

"How can you suggest it is fair when we have got 80 of the 87 counties?" Westrom asked. "You have a crumb you throw on the rural areas ... and now you want to cut that crumb even more."

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, stood up for rural Minnesota: "100 percent of food comes from where? Rural Minnesota. 100 percent of shelter comes from rural Minnesota."

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, did the math and said her Twin Cities area was cheated.

"In total, at least 78 percent of the money will be spent in outstate Minnesota," she said about the overall bill.

Bill author Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, told Wagenius that his plan is similar to last year's bill written by Democrats. Besides, he said, "most of the land is outside of the seven-county metro area."

Much of the four-plus-hour heated argument was about a couple million dollars.

The bill would evenly split parks and trails money with 41 percent to the metro and 41 percent to rural areas next year and 40 percent to each a year later. Regional parks anywhere in the state could apply for the rest of the funding, and rural parks have received much of it in the past.

Urdahl said Saturday's argument could be a preview of future legislative debates on many topics that split rural and urban Minnesota.

"I tried to forge agreements that took into consideration of all parts of Minnesota," Urdahl said.

The $449 million the bill would spend comes from a sales tax increase Minnesotans approved in 2008 for outdoors, clean water, culture and arts programs.

Overall, the bill, which passed 86-45 Saturday night, would spend $93 million on outdoor heritage programs, $178 million to clean the state's water, $77 million on parks and trails and $101 million on arts and culture programs.

For the arts and culture spending, the state would administer a competitive grant program. That the major difference with the Senate bill, which earmarks money for specific projects.

House and Senate versions of the bill now head to negotiators.

Vikings communicate

Legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton received letters from the Minnesota Vikings owners Saturday, playing down a disagreement about transportation costs to build a new stadium.

"We know that transportation infrastructure is an important concern, but we do not want this to be a barrier to having a first-class, multi-use stadium for the Minnesota Vikings, our fans and all Minnesotans," brothers Zygi Wilf and Mark Wilf wrote.

The Dayton administration estimates the state would need to pay at least $174 million to upgrade roads in the area to handle traffic taking 65,000 fans to a new northwestern Ramsey County stadium on game day.

Dayton and authors of the legislative bills to authorize a stadium insist the state pay no more than $300 million toward a $1 billion stadium.

One of the authors, Rep. Morrie Lanning, R-Moorhead, said he is awaiting information from Ramsey County before he can ask for a committee hearing on the bill.

He and Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, plan to meet with Dayton on Monday about the stadium.

"I haven't given up hope, yet," Lanning said Saturday night, but later added: "We have real issues that we have to get resolved. ... We have a pretty tall challenge."

Lanning said he agrees with Dayton's comments that the Vikings seem to be getting too good a financial deal in their Ramsey County proposal.

The Wilfs say in their letter that they think they have done what state leaders wanted.

Time is running out, with May 23 the last day the Legislature is to be in session and most emphasis in the remaining days being placed on finishing a two-year state budget. A stadium bill would need to be heard by several legislative committees before reaching votes in the House and Senate.

More hunting

Sandhill cranes and gray wolves could be hunted under a bill senators passed Saturday 62-0.

The bill by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, would allow wolf hunting only after federal authorities remove gray wolves from the endangered species list.

Other items in the bill, which awaits House action, include:

-- Counties and townships would be allowed to establish bounties for taking coyotes.

-- Parents or guardians would be responsible for children younger than 18 who violate game and fish laws.

-- People whose fences are damaged by elk could receive state compensation.

-- Money obtained from selling walleye stamps would be used to stock Minnesota waters with walleyes.

-- Twenty percent of elk hunting licenses would be issued to applicants who had not received a license in previous lotteries.

Resort plumbers

The House voted 130-1 to allow owners of small resorts to do their own routine plumbing work.

Rep. Larry Howes, R-Walker, brought the bill to allow resort owners do to the work, instead of forcing them to call outside plumbers for little tasks.

Resort owners would need for years of plumbing experience and pass a plumber's exam.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, sponsors the Senate version.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.