Omnibus Legacy Bill sent to the floor; includes controversial funding for buffers

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The Senate Finance Committee heard and approved the Omnibus Legacy Bill Thursday and forwarded it to the Senate floor. 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, as follows:

  • Outdoor Heritage Fund — $104.6 million (FY 2019 funds will be appropriated next year)
  • Clean Water Fund — $211.6 million
  • Parks and Trails Fund — $89.8 million
  • Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund — $123.4 million

The bill maintains the recommendations of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council for appropriations from the outdoor heritage fund, retains a 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.

This 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. An amendment to reverse that position and instead fully fund the recommendations of the state’s Clean Water Council failed on a voice vote. The bill will be heard next on the Senate floor.  (H.F. 707)