House set to commence dedicated funding talks

By Joe
Albert
Staff Writer

St. Paul – The wait is over. The state House appears on the
verge of tackling the idea of a constitutional dedication of funds
for natural resources. House Majority Leader Tony Sertich,
DFL-Chisholm, said he will introduce a bill, possibly as early as
this week. It won’t be the first dedicated funding bill introduced
in the House, but – to date – there hasn’t been action on any of
them.

Sertich was still working on the bill’s language earlier this
week, but said it would seek to raise the state sales tax by 3/8 of
1 percent and split it between habitat, clean water, parks and
trails, and arts and humanities.

‘It’ll look somewhat like (Senate Majority Leader Larry)
Pogemiller’s bill,’ Sertich said.

Pogemiller, a Minneapolis DFLer, was due to meet earlier this
week with the variety of interests that would benefit from his bill
to refine the amount of money spent in each area. His bill, SF6, is
awaiting a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee.

Dedicated funding proponents were happy to see Sertich, who is
second-in-command in the House, offer a bill.

‘To be at that level indicates the policy and political
importance of this bill,’ said Gary Botzek, executive director of
the Minnesota Conservation Federation. ‘That would indicate to us
it’s on the list of things to get done this year.’

Sertich noted the question couldn’t be on the ballot until next
fall, but said he wants to ‘pass something sooner than later.’

He also said he wanted to keep some flexibility in the bill.

‘Today, we know what our priorities are as far as conservation
and the outdoors,’ Sertich said. ‘A generation from now I don’t
know if it will be the same things.’

Last spring, Sertich offered a floor amendment for dedicated
funding that narrowly missed passage, but he said he’s not ‘always
a fan of constitutional amendments.’

But conservation and the environment haven’t been adequately
funded in the past, and it would have been difficult to find
sufficient money in the budget, he said. Additionally, while there
is a budget surplus of both one-time and ongoing funding, inflation
will consume the ongoing funding, meaning it won’t be available to
spend on conservation, Sertich said.

‘At least we know they are moving forward on it now,’ said Jim
Klatt, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance. ‘It’s
pretty obvious that we are going to be stuck with some variation of
some funding for the arts. We just hope it’s sensible and
reasonable.’

While the announcements in the House of a dedicated funding
proposal and formulation of a Game and Fish bill attracted the most
attention, committee deadlines are fast approaching, and lawmakers
in both bodies were scrambling to push through bills in advance of
the Easter break.

In the meantime, some other bills were introduced, and others
advanced. Among them:

Local water management

On the heels of a legislative auditor’s report that said the
Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources needs to provide more
oversight to local units of government that manage watersheds in
the state, Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, has introduced
HF1930.

The bill was introduced last week and had passed two House
committees as of early this week. A companion bill, SF1782, was
introduced by Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul.

The bill would appropriate $370,000 in Fiscal Year 2008 and
$381,000 in FY2009 to allow BWSR to evaluate and report on local
water management entities.

‘It’s providing a method to have BWSR provide oversight and
coach them along,’ Hansen said.

Fee increases

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, has introduced SF1994,
which would create a surcharge on a number of watercraft licenses.
The surcharge on a license for a watercraft 19 feet long or less,
for example, would be $25; more than 19 feet but less than 26 feet,
a $25 surcharge.

The surcharge would be placed in an account and used to fight
aquatic invasive species.

Chaudhary’s bill also would add a $2 surcharge to most
nonresident fishing licenses.

Firewood

Bills introduced by Hansen and Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand
Rapids, (HF1016 and SF420) that seek to halt the spread of invasive
species, such as emerald ash borer, are moving through both
bodies.

Because the bill would change firewood regulations at state
parks, the DNR has asked that the bill be passed early this session
so the new regulations can go into effect this spring.

The bill would require anyone camping on DNR-administered land
to use only firewood that’s approved by the commissioner.

The two versions differ slightly in the penalties for having
non-approved firewood, but neither bill’s penalties would kick in
until next year.

‘A lot of this is education,’ Hansen said.

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