Senate approves bill for local and statewide environmental projects

In 2008, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment to, “Protect our drinking water sources; to protect, enhance, and restore our wetlands, prairies, forests, and fish, game, and wildlife habitat; to preserve our arts and cultural heritage; to support our parks and trails; and to protect, enhance, and restore our lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater by increasing the sales and use tax rate beginning July 1, 2009, by three-eighths of one percent on taxable sales until the year 2034.”
At that time, four funds were created to appropriate the revenue collected from the new sales tax. This week, the Senate passed a bill that doles out $449.2 million collected to specific, approved purposes across the state. The money is distributed through four funds: The Outdoor Heritage Fund, the Clean Water Fund, the Parks and Trails Fund, and the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
Outdoor Heritage Fund. Thirty-three percent of the revenue is dedicated to restoring, protecting, and enhancing wetlands, prairies, forests, and habitat for game, fish, and wildlife. In 2012, $86.9 million will be invested in Minnesota’s prairies, forests, wetlands and habitat. Projects in the legislation include the Reinvest in Minnesota program, something many of our local residents take advantage of. In addition, the Shell Rock River Habitat an Water Restoration program will receive a $2.6 million appropriation.
Clean Water Fund. Thirty-three percent of the revenue is dedicated to protecting, enhancing, and restoring water quality in lakes, rivers, streams, and groundwater. In total, $179 million dollars will be used over the 2012-13 biennium for this cause. Examples of projects contained in the Clean Water Fund include pesticide monitoring and water assessment, and grants to the Public Facilities Authority that will be made available to our small, rural towns to improve local wastewater infrastructure.
Parks and Trails Fund. Fourteen point two-five percent of the revenue is dedicated to supporting parks and trails of regional or statewide significance. In total, $78 million will be used to support these efforts, including many of the trails that run through our Southern Minnesota district.
Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund. Nineteen point seven-five percent of the revenue is dedicated to arts, arts education, and arts access, and to preserve Minnesota’s history and cultural heritage. In 2012-2013, $104 million will be used for a variety of projects across the state, including $2.8 million for county fairs and agricultural societies – a big help for our local fair promoters.
In a year when many other areas of the state’s budget are struggling, it’s good to have a source of funding for some of the priorities that make Minnesota great. The bill passed with bipartisan support and, hopefully, will be signed by the Governor.
The legislative session is scheduled to end in just over a week, on May 23. If you have any questions or concerns about the remaining budget negotiations, please don’t hesitate to contact me at: sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; 651-296-9248; Room 19 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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