Evaluating the final Clean Water Fund bill

by Trevor Russell

Omnibus Legacy Finance (HF 707)
Final status: signed into law

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, including the Clean Water Fund.

Since then, the Clean Water Fund has received $759 million to protect and restore Minnesota’s groundwater and surface waters. (1) Minnesota’s 28-member Clean Water Council is charged with recommending to the legislature how money from the Clean Water Fund should be appropriated. FMR and our conservation allies strongly supported the Council’s FY 2018-2018 Clean Water Fund recommendations.

The 2017 Legacy Bill

The Omnibus Legacy Finance bill (HF 707) includes two major flaws.

  1. The final bill includes a potentially unconstitutional raid on the clean water fund,
  2. The bill offsets this raid by defunding $22 million in clean water programs included in the Clean Water Council’s FY 2018-2019 Clean Water Fund recommendations.

The $22 million raid

HF 707 betrays the expectations of Minnesota voters by raiding $22 million in Clean Water Fund money for administrative costs for local governments. The raided money was used to make up for the $22M funding cut for these activities that was included in the in the environment bill (SF 844).

In 2015, legislators agreed to tap the Clean Water Fund for one-time funding for base grants to the state’s 90 soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) to pay for administrative costs for buffer implementation. However, they included the promise that this would be a one-time act that was only necessary that year because a pending legislative adjournment deadline left no alternative.

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.”

Sadly, HF 707 violates this commitment, and again raids the Clean Water Fund for SWCD administrative expenses despite a $1.6 billion state budget surplus.

Shifting funding for SWCDs from traditional state funding sources to the Clean Water Fund violates the constitutional requirement that Legacy Amendment funds NOT be used as a substitute for traditional sources of funding.

De-Funding Water Protections

HF 707 offsets the buffer raid by reducing or eliminating funding for programs that protect our waters. Some examples include cuts to the following program activities:

The Board of Water & Soul Resources (BWSR):

  • $10M cut to surface, groundwater and drinking water protection grants.
  • $2.25M cut to riparian easements.
  • $1.86M cut to various water monitoring, planning and protection strategies.
  • $1.8M cut to buffer law & erosion control implementation assistance.

The University of Minnesota

  • $350K cut to the Forever Green Initiative.
  • Department of Natural Resources (DNR):
  • $650K less for aquifer monitoring for water supply planning (DNR)

Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA):

  • $1.25M cut to watershed monitoring, restoration and protection activities. (MPCA)
  • $375K for local septic treatment systems inspections & enforcement.
  • $1.1M cut to MPCA stormwater management program.

Other cuts, shifts and earmarks:

  • $1.25M cut to funding for local water treatment facility upgrades (Public Facilities Authority).
  • $600K cut to metro area water supply programs. (Metropolitan Council).
  • $101K cut to source water protection (Minnesota Department of Health).
  • $650K in legislative earmarks for specific projects in violation of Clean Water Fund tradition.

Re-paying the raid:

In the final hours of the session, an agreement was maid that will likely re-fund the Clean Water Fund for the legislature’s $22 million raid. Legislators did include language in the final tax bill that promises to repay the $22 raid should the state have a general fund surplus following a future budget forecast.

A Policy Victory: “No” to Not Net Gain

Several GOP conference committee members attempted to amend the final bill to include a “No Net Gains of Public Lands” provision, applicable in any county that chooses to pass a no net gain policy. This language would have allowed a county board to thwart local conservation and future state-wide conservation goals in violation of Minnesota voter intent. We are pleased to note that this amendment was defeated and did not become law.  


(1): The Clean Water Fund created by the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment “may be spent only to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams and to protect groundwater from degradation, and…to protect drinking water sources.” (Minn. Constitution, Art. XI, Sec. 15).