Outdoor-related issues remain unresolved as Minnesota Legislature nears May 21 deadline
St. Paul — This legislative session, some things outdoors-related seem to be humming right along while others seemed to be mired in uncertainty. Welcome to a script we’ve read before.
Take, for example, the omnibus Legacy finance bill – that which will fund numerous outdoor project to the tune of a total of $113 million in Fiscal Year 2019. In the past, there’s been dispute over whether or not the Legislature would follow the lead of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which makes spending recommendations for the dollars derived from a state sales tax increase approved 10 years ago.
“That is awesome,” Dave Carlson, president of the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, said of the fact that the House has approved the Legacy bill. It now moves to the Senate for consideration.
“We’re getting the feeling (the bill) will be the same in the Senate,” Carlson said. “We’re happy about that.”
According to the MOHA, the money provided in the bill would protect, enhance, and/or restore about 102,000 acres of wildlife habitat across the state. It would fund 47 programs, as recommended by the L-S Outdoor Heritage Council.
The House laid out a bonding bill last week that’s a far cry from the spending offered in Gov. Mark Dayton’s recommended $1.5 billion in spending. The House version would allocate $850 million to things like asset preservation, flood hazard mitigation, the betterment of state buildings, accessibility at state parks, and other project the DNR has highlighted in its fix-up plan.
“MOHA’s stand is we want the DNR’s request fully funded, because they need it pretty bad,” Carlson said.
In order to address landowner dissent regarding the statewide buffer plan, intended to protected state waters, some legislators are seeking compensation for loss of farmable acres.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Paul Anderson, a Starbuck Republican, would provide a property tax credit of $50 per acre for property required to be maintained as a buffer, according to a legislative report from the Minnesota Farmers Union. “Compensation for buffers has been a top issue for MFU since the law was passed in 2015,” according to the group’s report from Thom Petersen, adding that the compensation wouldn’t be for land enrolled in a conservation program, such as the federal Conservation Reserve Program.
One concern, said Carlson, is where the funding for this tax credit might come from. Some have offered the Clean Water Fund, also part of the 2008 Legacy Amendment.
He said the bill estimates the cost during the first year of the tax credit to be about $12 million. In the second year, it could cost about $15 million.
On May 1, DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr shipped off a letter enumerating agency concerns to key legislators.
Among those concerns, according to Landwehr, is funding to combat chronic wasting disease.
“The current House appropriation would require that the DNR continue to utilize hunter fees from the Game and Fish Fund for ongoing CWD response,” he wrote. “While the House bill provides $750,000 in general funds for CWD response, the anticipated need, and the Governor’s budget request, is for $1,560,000 from the general fund. Absent this funding, and in order to ensure a full response to CWD, the DNR would need to continue to use Game and Fish Fund dollars.
“In Fiscal Year 2017, we spent over $870,000 from the Game and Fish Fund on CWD response. We estimate we will spend close to $1.4 million in FY 2018, of which over $435,000 will be from the Game and Fish Fund. Our estimate for costs in FY 2019 remains at the Governor’s requested amount of $1,560,000,” Landwehr wrote.
“CWD response is not a hunter responsibility, and the impacts of CWD go well beyond impacts to hunting. We believe that hunters should not be required to bear the costs of CWD disease response,” the letter states.