A win for the great outdoors: Voters will get to rededicate lottery funds to the environment
Minnesotans will have the chance to vote on new (and improved) lottery funding for the great outdoors in 2024.
Legislators passed a bill this session that will put lottery dedication to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) on the ballot as a constitutional amendment next year, ensuring voters have the chance to renew the dedication before it expires in 2025.
The bill includes the exact language that will appear on the ballot:
"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to protect drinking water sources and the water quality of lakes, rivers, and streams; conserve wildlife habitat and natural areas; improve air quality; and expand access to parks and trails by extending the transfer of proceeds from the state-operated lottery to the environment and natural resources trust fund, and to dedicate the proceeds for these purposes?" [Yes/No]
We know looking forward to the 2024 election season feels premature, so we won't go there yet.
Rest assured, when the time comes, FMR members are sure to learn more about how the constitutional amendment works and why the ENRTF is such an essential source of dedicated environmental funding.
This represents a major victory on one of the top priorities we'd laid out at the start of the year. We are very grateful for the strong leadership demonstrated by Rep. Athena Hollins and Sen. Foung Hawj in getting this legislation across the finish line this session.
Excitingly, there's even more to like.
Also included: Easier access for underserved communities
In addition to the constitutional amendment language described above, the bill creates a new community grants program within the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources that will utilize an additional 1.5% of proceeds from the ENRTF per year to provide grant opportunities for underserved communities that have historically not had adequate access to this state conservation funding.
Securing ENRTF funding is a lengthy, complex, time-consuming and resource-intensive process, meaning grant awardees are mainly large, well-established organizations. This creates barriers for tribes, small nonprofits and BIPOC-leg organizations hoping to access these state conservation dollars. Case in point: over the past five funding cycles, nearly 70% of available LCCMR funds were distributed to state agencies and universities.
This new community grants program is an exciting step toward making the ENRTF more accessible to all communities.
What didn't make it in? And what's next?
There were four primary elements of the original legislation this year. In the end, the two mentioned above were included in the final package, while two others were left out.
OUT: Additional lottery revenue.
Currently, 40% of net lottery proceeds are dedicated to the ENRTF. Earlier versions of the legislation increased that share to 50%. However, lawmakers failed to include that increase in the final bill — and the 40% figure remains unchanged.
OUT: Unclaimed prize revenue.
Under current law, unclaimed prize money reverts to the state's general fund. Earlier versions of the legislation directed those funds to the ENRTF instead. Unfortunately, lawmakers failed to include that increase in the final bill.
They're not off the table for good, however. We plan to revisit these elements next session and hope to come away with these additional funds for the ENRTF.
Previous 2023 updates
The House bill to renew the lottery dedication to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (HF 1900) passed on a voice vote during a House Rules committee hearing Friday. This means the bill will now move to the House floor as soon as next week.
FMR Water Program Director Trevor Russell testified in favor of the legislation during the hearing.
"Renewing state lottery proceeds is an opportunity we can't afford to miss," Russell said. "And I'm confident that if you give Minnesotans the chance to vote, they will decide to dedicate these funds to the great outdoors."
He was joined by multiple conservation and recreation organizations who strongly support this vital source of dedicated environmental funding, including:
- Nels Paulsen, Conservation Minnesota
- Mary Robison, Department of Natural Resources
- Mike Verhoeven, Backcountry Hunters & Anglers
- Cecilia Calvo, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
- Rob Schultz, Audubon
- Carrie Jennings, Freshwater
- Mike Harley, Environmental Initiative
- Kateri Routh, Great River Greening
What happens next?
In the House, the bill now goes to the floor for consideration by that full body. Over in the Senate, a similar rules committee hearing will occur next week, before the Senate's version of the bill likewise goes to the floor in that chamber.
Senate status: Renewal bill awaiting action in Ways & Means (SF 2404)
House status: Renewal bill awaiting action in Finance (HF 1900 — DE5 amendment)
Minnesota voters deserve the opportunity to renew the decades-old dedication of lottery funds to environmental projects. We're pleased to see bills in both the House and Senate would allow for exactly that.
The legislation (SF 2404 and HF 1900DE5), if approved this session, would create a 2024 ballot question allowing Minnesota voters to decide an important question: Should a significant percentage of state lottery proceeds continue to be dedicated to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF)?
This same ballot question would also:
- Increase how much lottery revenue goes to the environment — from the current 40% up to 50%
- Direct any unclaimed prize money to the environment instead of the general fund
- Create a new community grants program to be administered by the Department of Natural Resources, which would provide access to ENRTF funds for groups historically excluded from the project funding process
Because this legislation creates a ballot amendment question for voters, these bills cannot be packaged inside larger omnibus bills. The two standalone bills must be agreed to by the House and Senate individually.
Which, we’re pleased to report, we expect legislators to do this session.
Minnesota voters may soon be able to protect and strengthen one of the primary sources of environmental funding in the state.
Since the overwhelming passage of a constitutional amendment in 1988, the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF) has provided more than $900 million to outdoors and environmental projects across Minnesota. That money has come from lottery proceeds, of which 40% are dedicated to the ENRTF.
That constitutional guarantee, however, will end in 2025 unless voters choose to renew it via a public referendum — an opportunity that will only exist on the ballot if lawmakers take action.
Friends of the Mississippi River wants to see the ENRTF (which is one of just two dedicated environmental funding sources in the state) protected for decades to come. Which is why we're enthused to see bills in both the House and Senate that would not only trigger this public referendum, but also put more lottery dollars into the ENRTF pot.
Allow Minnesota voters to weigh in on a constitutional amendment that would renew lottery dedication to the ENRTF through the year 2050.
Increase how much lottery revenue goes to the ENRTF, from the current 40% up to 50%
Send any unclaimed prize money to the ENRTF
Create a community grants program to reach groups that are often excluded from the project funding process
This question would be on the ballot for the 2024 election. Here's the current language for the proposed constitutional amendment:
"Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to protect drinking water sources; protect the water quality of lakes, rivers, and streams; and protect forests to improve air quality, wildlife habitat, natural areas, parks, and trails by extending the transfer of proceeds from the state-operated lottery to the environment and natural resources trust fund, to increase the portion of lottery proceeds transferred to the fund from the lottery from 40 to 50 percent, and to limit the uses of trust fund money?"
The bills are currently with committees in their respective chambers (Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy in the House, where Rep. Athena Hollins is the lead author; State and Local Government and Veterans in the Senate, with Sen. Foung Hawj as the lead author).