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.
Today marks the third committee deadline at the House. This is the last day for all finance bills, including the Legacy bills, to pass out of their final committees. Over the last two weeks, the House and Senate wrapped up their Legacy bills and Environmental Finance & Policy bills and they are now moving through the next steps of the legislative process.
Rep. Bob Gunther (R-Fairmont), chair of the House Legacy Finance Committee, unveiled his Legacy bill last week and it passed out of committee Monday. The committee honored the 40/40/20 split, under which 40 percent of Legacy funds go to the metro, 40 percent to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for state parks and trails and 20 percent to Greater Minnesota. The bill also provides the funding needed by the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks & Trails Commission (GMRPTC).
Equally important, the bill does not contain any restrictions on how Legacy money can be spent. In other words, there was no attempt to amend the provisions against eminent domain or similar restrictions into the bill. Moreover, there were no attempts to earmark any projects into the bill.
The bill passed through the Ways and Means Committee with no changes to provisions that pertain to parks and trails, and it will likely be heard by the entire House early next week. Amendments are possible on the House floor, but they must be filed in advance. We will notify our members and likely send out an “action alert” if there are any damaging amendments proposed.
Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point), chair of the Environment & Natural Resources Policy and Legacy Finance Committee, unveiled her bill this week. The Senate bill also honors the 40/40/20 split, provides funding for the GMRPTC as requested, and does not contain any spending restrictions.
The bill is now awaiting action in the Senate Finance Committee. From there it will move to the Senate floor for final passage, where can possibly be amended. Unfortunately, the Senate does not announce amendments in advance so we will be watching the proceedings closely to push back if there are any amendments of concern.
If the Senate and House pass Legacy bills that have different language, a conference committee will be convened to the resolve differences. The bill must then be repassed by both bodies before it is sent to Governor Dayton. It could face a potential veto from the Governor because of changes made to recommendations for spending on clean water initiatives, but it is too early to tell. Even if these provisions draw a veto, we expect the Legislature and Governor will find a way to pass and sign a Legacy bill this year.
The Senate and House have both passed their Environmental & Natural Resources Finance and Policy bills. The Senate bill contains our proposal for additional money for the Outdoor Recreation and Local Trails Connections grant programs, but the House bill does not. Because the House and Senate have different bills, they will be naming a conference committee to reconcile the differences.
This is where we will need everyone’s help! Once the conference committee is named, we will issue an “action alert” and request that all GMPT members reach out to the legislators on the conference committee and ask them to support funding for the local parks and trails grant programs. Stay tuned!