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Conservation Minnesota questions if Dayton's budget runs afoul of the strictures governing the Legacy amendment.

Dayton’s environmental budget draws fire

Paul Austin

Paul Austin

Saying that conservation takes a “disproportionate cut,” the non-profit group Conservation Minnesota is questioning if Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget runs afoul of the 2008 Legacy constitutional amendment.

Paul Austin, the group’s executive director, said state spending as a percentage of the overall budget declines in Dayton’s budget. In 2008, when Minnesota voters approved the Legacy amendment to increase the sales tax to pay for culture and outdoors projects, state spending on conservation and the environment was 1 percent of the budget.

In analyzing Dayton’s budget that was released Tuesday, Austin’s group computes the amount of spending slips to .75 percent in 2012 and .67 percent in 2013.

Austin noted in a press release that the general fund loses $5.2 million per year from the general fund because some fees are shifted to dedicated funds. However, Austin said general fund spending would drop by .78 percent in 2012 and .7 percent even without those shifts.

Austin said Dayton’s budget cuts the DNR and the state Pollution Control Agency by 10 percent. It cuts metro parks by 40 percent, he said.

Austin is questioning the constitutionality of the cuts because the Legacy amendment increased the sales tax to pay for spending that supplements rather than supplants existing state spending on the environment.

“The fear is that Legacy funding will be used to backfill in these areas, which is in direct opposition not only to the spirit but also the letter of the Legacy amendment,” Austin said.

The rules governing right and wrong with the Legacy amendment have been tricky for lawmakers and advocates to figure out and have sparked controversy. While lawmakers can make cuts to environmental spending, Austin said the rules of the Legacy require that the cuts be proportional to cuts elsewhere in the state budget.

“The voters spoke loud and clear in 2008 that they wanted to create the Legacy fund to augment spending on the environment and the arts, not to replace it,” Austin said. “We look forward to working with the governor to make sure that the next state budget shares the sacrifice evenly but also lives up to the expectations of the voters who enacted the legacy amendment.”

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