In less than two weeks, the Minnesota Legislature will reconvene, and although the second half of the biennium is shorter, it will likely be another busy session. Because it is not a budget year, the Legislature will be focused primarily on the bonding bill and policy issues. For GMPT, we have several priorities for 2024. We would like to see more funding for the DNR’s local park and trails grant programs and will be pushing for the inclusion of such funds in the bonding bill.
The 2018 election is bringing many new faces to the State Capitol. Come January, Minnesota will have a new governor, Tim Walz, and a new DFL House majority led by two suburban legislators, House Speaker Melissa Hortmann (DFL-Brooklyn Park) and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley).
The election also amplified the legislative divide between rural and metropolitan Minnesota. All but two of the 18 seats that swung from red to blue were located in the Twin Cities suburbs. The only seats that the DFL picked up in Greater Minnesota are in the Bemidji area, where former legislator John Persell reclaimed his former seat by only eight votes (this race is subject to an automatic recount, which is pending) and in St. Cloud where Doug Wolgamott won after his opponent, current Rep. Jim Knoblach, bowed out of the race. There was no change in the Senate as the Republicans were able to hold on to their majority by winning the special election in District 3, which was the only Senate seat up for election this year.
Committee chairs have also been announced. Sen. Carrie Ruud (R – Breezy Point) will continue to chair the Legacy Committee in the Senate and Rep. Leon Lillie (DFL – North St. Paul) was named chair of the Legacy Committee in the House.
What does the recent election mean for the GMPT legislative agenda? That depends on the topic.
Two of the biggest issues the GMPT faces this session are the split of the Legacy money between the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), metropolitan parks and Greater Minnesota, and shifting the operating fees for the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Commission from Legacy funding to the general fund. With respect to the split of the Legacy money, over the last three biennium there was an agreement to split funding with 40 percent going to both the DNR and metropolitan parks and 20 percent going to Greater Minnesota. Several GOP legislators have suggested that Greater Minnesota’s share should be expanded. However, with the shift in control putting the metropolitan area in charge in the House, that is unlikely to happen. On the flip side, a Greater Minnesota-based governor (Tim Walz is from Mankato) and a rural-dominated Senate should ensure that Greater Minnesota continues to receive 20 percent of the funding. At this point, it is too early to predict how the legislative change will affect the shift of operating fees.
Over the past couple sessions, the GMPT has fought against a push to restrict the ability of local governments to build parks and trails. This issue may appear again, but the DFL House may be less willing to move forward on such restrictions.
Over the next several weeks, our lobbyist Elizabeth Wefel will work with GMPT leadership to formalize our strategy for the legislative session. We will update you with more information in December, but in the meantime we encourage you to reach out to your legislators — both new and returning — to continue building relationships. For some pointers on meeting with legislators, please see this Lobbying Tips handout.
If you have any questions on our legislative strategy, please contact Elizabeth at firstname.lastname@example.org.