Pawlenty budget cuts cost DNR $29 million

Editor

St. Paul DNR programs funded through dedicated accounts came
through relatively unscathed in the 2004-05 biennial budget
proposal that Gov. Tim Pawlenty unveiled on Tuesday.

Agency-wide, however, cuts from the state’s General Fund mean a
12-percent reduction in in funding, or $29 million in DNR cuts over
the biennium, according to Brad Moore, DNR assistant commissioner
for operations. Moore said the agency expects about 100 layoffs
would occur under the plan.

“The first thing you see as far as impacts on the agency is in
areas that receive General Fund,” he said. “Our dedicated funds
were not touched.”

Under the budget, the governor cut an average of 17 percent in
General Fund revenues to all divisions, including Fisheries and
Wildlife, Moore said. Those two divisions, however, receive the
bulk of their funding from the Game and Fish Fund and other
dedicated revenue streams. Therefore, the cuts to their total
budget were relatively small.

In Fisheries for FY2004, which begins July 1, 2003, the general
Fund cuts equal $88,000, or less than 1 percent of the division’s
budget, Moore said. In Wildlife, the $275,000 in General Fund cuts
represent about 1 percent of that division’s total, he said. By
comparison, the Parks Division would see nearly 11 percent of its
total budget slashed under the governor’s plan.

“I’d stress that the integrity of the dedicated accounts has
been upheld,” Moore said. “The governor treated us fairly.”

Two user fee increases will offset the total gross cuts of $31
million by about $1.9 million, Moore said. Under the plan, those
increases would occur in the Division of Waters with water use
permits for irrigation, and in the Lands and Mineral Division with
utility licenses.

The total agency General Fund allocation prior to the cuts is
$271 million. The governor’s plan would trim that to about $240
million.

Moore also stressed that the DNR had a very limited timeframe in
which to compile proposed cuts for the governor’s office, and the
agency might be able to “rethink” some aspects of the plan. Any
possible changes would likely occur by early March, he said.

“Some of the impacts likely will change,” he said.

Other points of the governor’s plan include:

There are no hunting or fishing license increases in the plan,
though agency leadership were planning a meeting with the Game and
Fish Oversight Committee Wednesday night to discuss current fee
structuring in more detail, Moore said.

The lottery-in-lieu monies, first allocated to the DNR from
lottery ticket sales tax revenue three years ago, would be
retained, Moore said, though “at a slightly reduced rate.”

The plan would keep all state parks open, but with some cuts.
Moore said the plan would defer some resource management projects
in parks, and the number of parks offering interpretative services
would drop from 15 to 12.

Layoffs likely would occur in several divisions, including Lands
and Minerals, Waters, Parks, Ecological Services, Operations
Support, and through vacancies, Enforcement, Moore said.

Forestry would see a 10-percent reduction in its General Fund
streams, Moore said. The agency wanted to emphasize wildfire
protection and retain foresters in the field who provide General
Fund revenue by managing state timber sales.

In Fisheries, cuts would affect shoreline and and aquatic plant
restorations, and in Wildlife, food plot plantings, brushland
management, and surveys of several species in the 1837 Treaty area
would be reduced, Moore said.

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