Saturday, February 4th, 2023
Saturday, February 4th, 2023

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DNR ponders essentials for shutdown scenario

CREP funding still not assured

By Rob Drieslein

Editor

St. Paul Most DNR operations will shut down July 1 if the
Legislature cannot resolve the current budget stalemate and keep
state agencies funded and running.

Letters went out Tuesday to all 53,000 state employees
explaining what could occur if a government shutdown happens on
July 1. Gov. Jesse Ventura’s new shutdown planning team has
proposed unpaid “furloughs” for state employees instead of layoffs
in the event of shutdown.

Fiscal Year 2001 ends June 30, and without a new state budget
for the next fiscal year, the planning team has said that all state
services not critical to public safety will cease.

Brad Moore, assistant DNR commissioner for operations, said the
DNR is trying to determine which agency services qualify as
“critical.” In general, most DNR operations will shut down July 1
without a budget agreement or passage of a “lights-on” bill in the
state Legislature, he said.

“The governor office is working with all agencies right now to
determine what’s critical,” Moore said. “Like every other agency,
we’re right in the middle trying to make our case.”

Moore stressed that such discussions are preliminary, and the
agency remains hopeful that a shutdown will not occur.

“We’re having to think about this, but we’re hoping it doesn’t
happen,” he said.

Two sectors the agency will advocate keeping operational include
fish hatcheries and wildfire suppression staff, Moore said.
Existing fish stocks, besides the obvious financial investment,
could pose an environmental, water quality hazard if agency
personnel can’t keep them alive.

Division of Forestry firefighters likely would be furloughed
along with other state employees, but would return to active duty
in the event of an emergency, Moore said.

No shutdown has ever occurred in Minnesota state government
history, and several scenarios could still prevent one. Gary
Botzek, executive director of the Fish and Wildlife Legislative
Alliance, said he remains optimistic that the State Senate, House,
and Governor’s Office can resolve the budget deadlock.

“There’s still two weeks to go, and there’s never been a state
government shutdown before. Why start now?” he said.

Two scenarios could play out to benefit DNR, he said. Two weeks
ago, a conference committee passed an environment and natural
resource funding bill, which includes the DNR and PCA budgets. All
the Legislature has to do is pass the bill through the respective
houses, get Ventura’s signature, and DNR can consider itself
funded. Unfortunately, until the deadlock breaks over the K12
funding bill, the tax bill, and the human services bill, most
agreed-upon legislation is in effect being held hostage, Botzek
said.

The second scenario is a so-called “lights-on” funding package,
which would if passed by June 30 maintain basic state services at
their current funding level until the state passes a more complete
budget.

CREP threatened

The budget impasse also threatens funding for the Conservation
Reserve Enhancement Program, the 100,000-acre habitat protection
effort for the Minnesota River watershed.

Though the state bonding bill contains the full $51 million in
remaining state funding for CREP, a “lights-on” scenario wouldn’t
encompass bonding money. Judy Erickson, who has worked on CREP on
behalf of the Friends of the Minnesota River Valley, agreed with
Botzek that outside of a larger agreement on the tax bill and other
larger issues, the bonding bill and CREP are going nowhere.

Assuming the Legislature resolves those issues and passes the
bonding bill, CREP will receive the remainder of its state funding.
Without the bonding bill, however, CREP won’t get done, and
thousands of acres of highly erodible, potential perpetual easement
acres won’t reap its benefits.

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