House bill aims to replace the Legacy Amendment

by Trevor Russell

House file: H.F.698 (Rep. Green - R)
Senate File: no senate file

A bill introduced by Republican Rep. Steve Green (Fosston) would require the state to conduct a new referendum to replace the Legacy Amendment with funds for a narrow list of highway and bridge projects and bar Clean Water Fund spending on most clean-up and restoration projects.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment

In 2008, Minnesota’s successful Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment provided for a 3/8th of 1 percent sales tax increase dedicated to water quality, land conservation, parks and trails, and the arts. The referendum directs sales tax revenue to four state funds, each of which has received hundreds of millions of dollars since voters overwhelmingly approved the amendment:
• Clean Water Fund ($759 million received to date)
• Outdoor Heritage Fund ($741 million)
• Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund ($441 million)
• Parks & Trails Fund ($317 million)

House File 698

The bill introduced by Rep. Green would require the state to conduct a new referendum to redirect these sales tax funds. If the resulting referendum were to be approved, 67 percent of Legacy funds would go towards a narrow list of highway and bridge projects and the Clean Water Fund would be reconfigured and barred from investing in most habitat restoration projects and water quality lake monitoring.

Rewriting the Clean Water Fund

One of the many disastrous aspects of this bill and the resulting referendum is how it would redirect Clean Water Fund money. Rather than rely on the state’s existing and highly respected Clean Water Council to make recommendations to the legislature on how to best spend the available dollars to help protect and improve Minnesota's water resources, the budget would be predetermined as follows:
• 10 percent: Grants to local lake associations for aquatic invasive species control
• 60 percent: Grants for aquatic invasive species control and control research
• 25 percent: Grants to monitor rivers and streams (no lakes allowed) as recommended by Senate and House committees having jurisdiction over the environment
• 5 percent: Funds to cover administrative costs of grant recipients

These allocations would be calamitous. Dedicating 70 percent of the Clean Water Fund exclusively to aquatic invasive species issues would undermine the state’s ability to address virtually any other water quality concerns. All work to restore polluted lakes and streams would be eliminated.

Furthermore, the state’s science-based process for monitoring water quality would be replaced with a monitoring protocol decided by politicians with limited expertise in water resource monitoring methods. And, for reasons we can’t begin to understand, monitoring the water quality in Minnesota’s lakes would be ineligible.

Lastly, funding for much-needed research on water restoration strategies would be zeroed out.

Farewell to land conservation, parks and trails, and the arts

The bill and referendum would also call to eliminate all funding to the Outdoor Heritage Fund, Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund and the Parks & Trails Fund. Together, these funds provide millions of dollars in investment in our land, habitat, parks, trails and cultural heritage. Their loss would be a tragedy for all Minnesotans who want to live in a cleaner, healthier, safer and more vibrant Minnesota.

Transportation projects

The bill’s primary intention is to redirect most of the amendment money to transportation projects, though it specifically bars funds being used on light-rail transit. Instead, it establishes three priorities for use of funds from a new or revised Legacy amendment:
• Improvement or reconstruction of structurally deficient bridges or highways
• Projects that increase permissible weight limits to 10-ton axle weight (or at least 97,000 pounds) on trunk highways
• Improvement or reconstruction of county state-aid highways, county highways, and township roads.

This callous approach ignores the many alternative options for enhanced transportation funding available to the state, and simply aims to “rob Peter to pay Paul.”

Time to act: Water Action Day April 19, 2017

Bills like this one are why FMR is a proud sponsor of Water Action Day.

Water Action Day is Minnesota’s day of public action and advocacy to let lawmakers know we care about our water. This all-day event will include a rally, trainings on the most important issues facing our waters today and meetings with your legislators. Come for all or part of the day and let your voice be heard! Register here.

For more updates, see FMR's main legislative page.

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