Monday, January 30th, 2023
Monday, January 30th, 2023

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Forum scrutinizes the future of LCMR

Staff Writer

St. Paul A forum held last week revealed wide support for
tinkering with the body that doles out money for natural resources
in Minnesota, but outright endorsements of Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s plan
to do it were few and far between.

Among those at the Minnesota Environmental Initiative’s annual
legislative issues forum last Wednesday including government,
non-profit and business stakeholders, as well as legislators there
was little debate that the Legislative Commission on Minnesota
Resources should be reformed.

The question was how to accomplish it. Discussion about the
future of the LCMR is expected to be one of the main environmental
topics of the 2005 session. Pawlenty in October outlined a plan to
disband the 20-member LCMR, which allocates about $37 million a
biennium from the lottery-funded Environmental Trust Fund, and
replace it with a seven-member citizens board (that number has
since changed to 11 members).

The board would be independent of the Legislature. Each of the
state’s eight congressional districts would have a representative
on the so-called Minnesota Conservation Heritage Foundation, and
there would be three at-large members, according to DNR Deputy
Commissioner Mark Holsten, a former legislator who sat on a panel
at the forum with Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm; Rep. Kathy
Tingelstad, R-Andover; former Sen. Jane Krentz; and Nancy Gibson,
chair of the citizen advisory committee on the Minnesota
Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund.

Pawlenty would appoint the foundation’s members, who would serve
six-year, staggered terms. The new foundation would be responsible
for parceling out money for projects involving game and fish
preservation, non-game habitat, forests, streams and
shorelines.

Pawlenty’s proposal expected to be finalized by the Jan. 4 start
of the session was criticized soon after he announced it. The
debate about Pawlenty’s proposal and the LCMR, in particular isn’t
over, if Wednesday’s forum is any indication.

Long, arduous process

A lack of flexibility was something often cited as a flaw with
the LCMR. Anyone who applies for its funds can expect a process
that starts two years before any money will be delivered, Gibson
said.

Given the time it takes to conceptualize a project, it’s usually
even longer. And under the current LCMR system, there’s no way to
deal with projects or situations that come up suddenly, Holsten
said.

“We don’t have that in the LCMR process because it’s a
three-year, bureaucratic process,” said Holsten, an LCMR member
from 1999 until 2002.

Tingelstad agreed it’s a long process, but said it seems to be
working.

Frederickson doesn’t support the dissolution of the LCMR, but
said 20 members is too many. What ends up happening, he said, is
that a large caucus will meet away from the main committee and make
decisions. He recommended having 14 to 16 LCMR members.

Accountability

Speaking to Pawlenty’s proposal, Tingelstad and Frederickson
believed it lacked accountability.

Public money should be allocated by elected officials, not
citizens who aren’t bound to a constituency, Frederickson said.

But Holsten said a stand-alone commission would be more visible
and accountable than the current LCMR.

“Go ask What is the LCMR?’ Nobody has a clue,” Holsten said.

New ideas

The forum also produced some ideas on how to fix the LCMR
process, short of Pawlenty’s idea.

Krentz, who remains supportive of the LCMR process, though it’s,
as she said, “too ripe for political games and bargaining,”
suggested the equivalent of a pilot project of Pawlenty’s
proposal.

She suggested a group of citizens, similar to the MCHF, could be
given authority to spend the $13 million a year from the Future
Resources Fund, which was re-routed to the general fund in ’03.

Pawlenty’s proposed foundation would be responsible for
dispersing as much as $50 million a biennium, including ETF money
and possibly some money currently allocated by the DNR.

Tingelstad suggested having two pots of ETF money available. One
of those would be used to fund projects with the current, biennial
process. The other would allow the LCMR to fund projects outside of
the regular process.

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