On Thursday the Senate rolled out its Legacy bill, which spends dedicated sales tax dollars on environmental and cultural projects. The Senate’s bill is markedly different from the House companion that is expected to be debated on the House floor Friday. The Senate bill was unveiled in the Subcommittee on Legacy, chaired by Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, but no vote was taken.
The Senate’s bill is more orthodox than its House companion, funding only projects that were recommended by the citizen-legislator commission known as the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. The Lessard-Sams recommendations apply to the portion of the Legacy for 2014 that goes to the Outdoor Heritage Fund to pay for habitat projects to improve hunting and fishing.
In addition to tacking on additional projects that weren’t heard by Lessard-Sams, the House bill sponsored by Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, would change the funding schedule from the current annual basis to a biennial basis. The Senate’s bill, meanwhile, appropriates $95.6 million for 2014 and assumes the Legislature will pass another funding bill in 2015. The other three funds that receive Legacy money — parks and trails, clean water and arts — are appropriated on a biennial basis. More than 20 conservation groups sent a letter to Minnesota legislators on Thursday objecting to the House’s deviations from the Lessard-Sams recommendations.
Another major controversy regarding Legacy involves the regional distribution of $83.5 million for the biennium out of the Parks and Trails Fund. Greater Minnesota parks interests have pushed for a larger slice of the funding over the objections of the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Department and other metro area park districts. The Senate’s proposal, which is the same as Gov. Mark Dayton’s, is less favorable to the metro. It assigns 40 percent of the funding to metro parks, 40 percent to the statewide parks program, and 20 percent for a greater Minnesota parks grant program. The House bill bases parks funding on assessments of particular projects rather than on a regional basis. When the House allocations are pooled according to region, the metro area does better — receiving 43 percent of the funding. The statewide parks program is knocked down to the 37 percent in the House bill, and greater Minnesota parks get 20 percent, the same as in the Senate and governor’s proposals.