Environmental funding bill keeps DNR running

By Joe Albert

Staff Writer

St. Paul — When a legislative working group passed a bill last
Thursday to fund the DNR and other environmental agencies, the room
erupted in applause.

At the time, Senate and House passage was assumed, as was the
governor’s signature. That all happened, and state parks remained
open and the DNR avoided being shut down. But Anne Hunt of the
Minnesota Environmental Partnership couldn’t bring herself to
cheer.

“It’s not something we can clap for,” she said. “The Legislature
and governor aren’t committed to fully and adequately protecting
our environment.”

The bill drops conservation funding to a 30-year low, and brings
environmental spending to about 1 percent of the state General
Fund, Hunt said.

Additionally, other priorities that sportsmen rallied for in
April — dedicated funding, Legislative Commission on Minnesota
Resources reform, and the Clean Water Legacy Act — didn’t come to
fruition, though a study on LCMR reform was ordered.

“I’m really disappointed — they don’t seem to get it,” said
Dave Zentner of Duluth, who organized the rally at the Capitol.
“They don’t understand the urgency of doing things now, not next
year. All of these topics have been around long enough.

“The bottom line is it’s all been talk so far, and there’s
plenty of blame to go around.”

DNR budget

The bill contained funding for the DNR for the next
biennium.

The agency took a General Fund hit, but the its total budget, at
$614 million, is up from last biennium, said Mark Holsten, DNR
deputy commissioner.

“It actually looks really good,” he said. “A couple of weeks out
from the end of the regular session, we were looking at a budget
that had some severe, significant reductions” like closing some
facilities.

Divisions like Forestry, which are largely dependent on General
Fund dollars, will be more affected than those like Fish and
Wildlife, which has a source of funding in the Game and Fish
Fund.

Holsten said a slight reduction in staff numbers at the agency
is possible, though current levels also might be maintained.

“We had a very successful year in both policy and finance at the
Legislature,” Holsten said.

Boat fees increase

The license fees on all boats are increasing.

The increases, earmarked for improving and acquiring public boat
accesses, are expected to generate about $1.9 million per year.

The fee for a watercraft 19 feet long or less is increased from
$18 to $27; for canoes, kayaks, and sailboats 19 feet or less, the
fee is increased from $7 to $10.50; for personal watercraft, the
fee is increased from $25 to $37.50. For all other watercraft 17
feet or less, the fees goes from $12 to $18.

For watercraft more than 19 feet, but less 26 feet, the license
fee goes from $30 to $45; for watercraft 26 feet long, but less
than 40 feet, the fee is increased from $45 to $67.50. The fee for
watercraft 40 feet or longer is increased from $60 to $90.

LCMR study

Proponents of LCMR change, led by Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who
outlined an idea last fall to replace the commission’s 20
legislators with a citizens board, got an assurance that there will
be some sort of change.

The bill creates a 16-member group made up of four former LCMR
members from the House, four former members from the Senate, and
eight citizens who haven’t served on the LCMR Citizens Advisory
Council, but who have applied for LCMR grants.

The group will examine the current LCMR grant process and
recommend changes, and submit a report by Feb. 15, 2006. The bill
also sunsets the authority of the LCMR to spend Environmental Trust
Fund dollars on June 30, ’06.

Additionally, Pawlenty vetoed the second year of administrative
costs for the LCMR, about $450,000.

Beaver damage grant

The Board of Water and Soil Resources must establish a beaver
damage control grant program to provide grants to control beaver
activities that damage public waters, roads, and ditches adjacent
to private property.

Vetoes

Before he signed the spending bill, Pawlenty line-item vetoed
about $6.8 million of it. The majority of the money — about $4
million — was appropriations from the LCMR to a variety of
education and research projects.

Pawlenty said in a letter he vetoed the projects because they
didn’t meet the constitutional requirements of the lottery-funded
Environmental Trust Fund.

Among the vetoes:

  • $325,000 to a program that provides fishing opportunities to
    seniors, known as “Let’s Go Fishing.”

The bill was introduced by Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, and Sen.
Dean Johnson, DFL-Willmar. Juhnke called veto of the bill a “gut
punch.”

  • $2.4 million over two years to the Minnesota Conservation
    Corps.
  • $250,000 over two years to study the impacts of climate change
    on Minnesota’s aquatic resources.
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