The Legislature was busy last week as it moved all of its omnibus finance and policy bills through their final committees before legislators headed out for Easter/Passover break, which began today. Although there’s still quite a bit of work to be done before the end of session, at this point we’ve had mixed results on our GMPT legislative priorities.
Here’s an update on where our priorities stand, as well as information on how you can help:
- Legacy Funding – Securing Greater Minnesota’s portion for this legislative session and ensuring that the Legislature does not interfere with the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission’s (GMRPTC) recommendations.
The House and Senate omnibus Legacy bills, HF 653/ SF 836, both maintain the 40/40/20 split for funding, with 40 percent going to both metropolitan parks and the DNR for state parks. The regional parks and trails of Greater Minnesota will receive 20 percent. Both bills contain funding for the GMRPTC as well.
Different amendments were added to both bills. In the House, Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) added an amendment stating that grant recipients must provide written assurance that they will not use Legacy money on expenses that they had previously funded with through traditional source of funding. A traditional source of funding is defined as anything other than Legacy money that the grant recipient has used for three out of the last five years.
Although the stated purpose is to conform to the Legacy Amendment, it goes farther than necessary and will likely create problems. For example, it could interfere with projects that rely on a local match or lengthy projects that have had funding from a variety of sources. We will be working with other advocates to amend or remove the language from the bill.
In the Senate, Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) added an amendment that would reconstitute a task force from 2011 that considered how the parks and trails Legacy funding would be divided among the partners. Three members each from the DNR, metropolitan parks and Greater Minnesota would participate on the task force.
The House and Senate bills passed out of their respective committee and are now awaiting action in the House Ways & Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee after the Easter Break.
- Outdoor Recreation and Local Trail Connection Grants
This year we are continuing our push for additional funding for local parks and trails grants programs. We introduced SF 835/HF 654 which would appropriate general fund money to the Outdoor Recreation and Local Trail Connection grants program. Both the Senate and House included $1 million per biennium from the general fund for these programs.
In addition, the House’s version of the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota’s Resources (LCCMR) bill — which allocates money from the Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund — includes $3 million for these programs as recommended by the LCCMR. The Senate combined the LCCMR bill into its omnibus environment and natural resources bill and added an additional $1 million to those grants.
- GMRPTC Funding – Pay for the commission’s operations ($450,000) out of the general fund
As we reported last week, the House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division refused to hear our legislation, HF 868, which would fund the GMRPTC out of the general fund, and the division did not include any funding for the commission in its omnibus bill. The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance Committee did hear our legislation, SF 999; however, despite the warm reception it received in committee, their omnibus bill did not contain the funding either.
We had anticipated that it would be a challenge to obtain an appropriation from the general fund, particularly in the Senate. The Senate leadership set a negative target for the Environment Committee, which means they had to cut $57 million in general fund spending from the previous biennium’s appropriation. To accomplish these cuts, general fund appropriations to the DNR for state parks and other priorities were cut by $31 million. Given those cuts, obtaining new funding was unlikely.
Our lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel testified about our disappointment at hearings in the House and Senate. We also distributed letters to all rural legislators expressing our disappointment that even though $9 million in the House and $8 million in the Senate was allocated to the metropolitan parks and trails for operations, they did not provide any funding for operations for Greater Minnesota’s the parks and trails or to the GMRPTC. You can read copies of our letter to House members here and our letter to Senators here.
Why is a general fund appropriation important and what can you do?
The reason that we requested a general fund appropriation for the GMRPTC is that it is currently funded out of Greater Minnesota’s 20% share of Legacy parks and trails funding. The $450,000 per year that pays for the GMRPTC’s operations could be used for grants to designated parks and trails if the commission were funded through the general fund instead. We are particularly disappointed because the metropolitan parks have been receiving general fund money for their operations for years. We do not begrudge them their funding, but we believe that Greater Minnesota deserves support as well.
Do you want to help? At this point, our best hope is to gain support from legislative leaders. Easter Break starts today and lasts through Monday, April 22. We urge you to reach out to the leaders listed below during their break and ask them to include general fund money for the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission in the final version of the omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill.
A few points you can make:
- Throughout the state, regional parks and trails enhance local economies and play an integral role in the health and well-being of our residents by encouraging active living.
- The environment and natural resources finance omnibus bill contains millions of dollars in support for regional parks and trails in the metropolitan area. However, it does not provide anything for operations or any other purpose to the regional parks and trails in Greater Minnesota.
- Our funding request for the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission was equal to about 5% of what is allocated to the metropolitan regional parks and trails for operations and maintenance.
- We don’t begrudge the metropolitan parks and trails their funding. They have a wonderful system that has been built in part with millions of dollars of support from the state over the last several decades. We are concerned, however, that the regional parks and trails in Minnesota’s other 80 counties are being ignored.
- The Legislature has declared its interest in helping meet the needs of Greater Minnesota. To carry through on this pledge, funding should be added to the environment and natural resources funding bill for the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission.
We urge you to reach out to these legislators:
- Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka: 651-296-4875 or use his email form
- Senate Finance Chair Julie Rosen: 651-296-5713 or firstname.lastname@example.org
- Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman: 651-296-4280 or email@example.com
- House Ways and Means Chair Lyndon Carlson: 651-296-4255 or firstname.lastname@example.org
We encourage you to contact your own legislators and ask for their assistance as well. You can find their contact info on the Who Represents Me? website.
Thank you for all you do to support parks and trails in Greater Minnesota. Please contact our lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel at email@example.com if you have any questions.