MN House & Senate rewrite Legacy and undercut Clean Water Fund recommendations.

by Trevor Russell

A pair of bills advanced in the House and Senate this week that rewrite appropriations for the State’s Clean Water Fund. These bills:

  • Undermine the Clean Water Council’s recommendations;
  • Violate the legislature’s 2015 promise to taxpayers on buffer funding; and
  • Reduce or eliminate funding for drinking water, agricultural conservation, water monitoring and other core clean water programs.

The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment

Minnesota’s Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment provides for a 3/8th of 1 percent sales tax increase dedicated to water quality, land conservation, parks & trails, and the arts. One third of that money goes to the State’s Clean Water Fund, to protect and restore Minnesota’s waters.

Minnesota’s Clean Water Council (CWC) is charged with recommending to the legislature how money from the clean water fund should be appropriated.[1] The 28-member council has a diverse membership of individuals and organizations with expertise in water quality and drinking water related issues. They utilize a robust public input process to prioritize their Clean Water Fund recommendations for maximum clean water outcomes.

While earlier versions of these bills adhered to the Clean Water Council’s wise recommendations, the bills have since been completely re-written in a way that:

  • Undermines the Clean Water Council’s recommendations;
  • Violates the legislature’s 2015 promise to taxpayers; and
  • Reduces or eliminates funding for priority drinking water, agricultural conservation, water monitoring and other core clean water programs.

Violating the 2015 buffer promise

The most contentious provision shifts funding for $22 million in grants to the state’s 90 soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) to help landowners comply with the buffer law.  

When the buffer law was enacted in 2015, legislators agreed to fund the first two years of this work with Clean Water Fund money, with the promise that future funding for SCWDs would come from the general fund. Session Laws 2015, 1st Special Session, Chapter 4, Article 3, Section 4 clearly states the intent to fund these services from the general fund going forward.[2]  

Sadly, House and Senate leadership has since broken this promise and amended the bill to once again force buffer funding into the Clean Water Fund. This shift from the general fund to the Constitutionally-dedicated Clean Water Fund violates the spirit of the Legacy Amendment. Furthermore, the $22 million in SWCD funding is in turn offset with deep cuts to a raft of priority clean water programs elsewhere in the Clean Water Fund bill.

These changes were made despite no testimony in support, and vocal opposition from the Minnesota Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (who would receive the money), Clean Water Council members, FMR and our clean water partners.

De-funding drinking water protections

Both the House and Senate de-fund a variety of programs that protect Minnesota’s drinking water. For example, the Senate cuts for than $8 million in drinking water and groundwater programs. These cuts include:

  • $300K cut to Minnesota Department of Health Lead in Drinking Water Protection
  • $5.618M cut to BWSR Surface and Drinking Water Protection/Restoration Grants
  • $1.795M cut to MDH Source Water Protection  
  • $650K cut to DNR Aquifer Monitoring for Drinking Water Protection  
  • $275K cut to Minnesota Department of Health Well Sealing  
  • $150K cut to Minnesota Department of Health Private Well Water Supply Protection
  • $50K cut to Met Council Metropolitan Area Water Supply Sustainability Support
  • $150K cut to Minnesota Department of Health Groundwater Protection Strategies

On top of planned general fund cuts to these agencies, these cuts represent more than $8.9 million in reduced funding for groundwater and drinking water protection programs - including many that the Clean Water Council wisely recommended for increased funding to accommodate urgent drinking water and water supply protection needs across the state.

Cutting funding for clean water cropping systems

Agricultural runoff is the leading source of pollution to the Mississippi River. Solving this problem requires new cropping systems and soil health initiatives that reduce pollution while maintaining farm prosperity.

Despite bipartisan support for such initiatives, these bills make dramatic cuts to two critical programs:

  • The University of Minnesota’s Forever Green Initiative: The Senate reduces funding by $350K, the House by $950K.
  • The Minnesota Department of Health’s Vegetative Cover & Soil Health initiative: The Senate reduces funding by $150K.  

Zeroing-out the University of Minnesota

The Senate bill, under Senator Carrie Ruud (R - Breezy Point) goes even further by zeroing all Clean Water Fund money for the University of Minnesota, despite strong bi-partisan support for University-lead research initiatives that advance progress on clean water.

Earmarking: letting favorite projects jump in line

These bills also violate the traditional program-only approach for allocating the clean water funding. The Legislature has previously directed funds to programs through agencies and the University of Minnesota. Those entities in turn allocate accept project proposals, and evaluate each against stringent criteria to ensure that the very best projects are funded first.

This is a wise approach, as it avoids legislative temptation to earmark Clean Water Fund dollars for “pet projects” in specific districts or regions that compromise the integrity of the Clean Water Fund process.

Sadly, rather than honor agencies priority-setting processes, some specific projects have be earmarked in the bill. For example, the Senate includes $400k in money to the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency earmarked for specific monitoring and phosphorus reduction work in the St. Croix River Association, despite objections from the Governor and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency.

Next Steps

Friends of the Mississippi River and our clean water allies continue to urge House and Senate members, along with Governor Dayton, to revise this Omnibus Legacy bills to align Clean Water Fund recommendations to more closely follow the wise recommendations of the Clean Water Council.

We are hopeful that these bills will be amended on the House and Senate floor, or receive a strong veto from Governor Dayton.

Time to act: Water Action Day April 19th 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, issue trainings and meetings with your legislators.

Join us to tell your legislators you care about clean water, and participate in a clean water rally featuring Governor Dayton, Winona LaDuke, Vice President Walter Mondale and many others.

Come for all or part of the day and let your voice be heard! Please register today!

 

 

[2] Session Laws 2015, 1st Special Session, Chapter 4, Article 3, Section 4: “The base [general fund] for the board in fiscal year 2018 and thereafter is increased by $11,000,000 for grants to soil and water conservation districts to implement buffer requirements.”