Omnibus Legacy bill passes Senate, moves next to conference committee

The omnibus legacy bill was approved Monday by the full Senate on a vote of 52-12. The bill appropriates biennial funding of $529 million from the four legacy funds established by the “Legacy Amendment” that was approved by Minnesota’s voters in 2008.

The bill maintains the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for appropriations from the outdoor heritage fund, retains the current 40:40:20 distribution for parks and trails (40% to the DNR for state parks and trails, 40% to the Metropolitan Council for metro area parks and trails, and 20% to greater Minnesota parks and trails), and establishes an ongoing 5% fund balance in each of the four funds.

The bill faces strong opposition from a number of environmental groups and clean water advocates, who are concerned about the clean water fund portion of the bill that shifts $22 million in grants to the state’s 90 soil and water conservation districts to help with buffer compliance. In 2015, legislators funded this work with clean water fund money, but said future funding, beginning in 2017, would come from the state’s general fund. An amendment to reverse that position and instead fully fund the recommendations of the state’s Clean Water Council failed on a vote of 30-35, largely along partisan lines.

The Senate bill continues to fund buffer compliance work from the clean water fund, which critics say violates the spirit of the Legacy Amendment and means deep cuts to several clean water programs that would otherwise be funded, including drinking water and groundwater protections. The bill moves next to a joint Senate and House conference committee to work out differences between the Senate and House versions of the bill. (H.F. 707)