Driving County Roads

An on line journal sharing my views. The content reflects my background as a rural person employed in agriculture and as a retired elected official of local government.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

CLEARING THE WATERS

The Minnesota legislators are looking for ideas to decrease spending. I suggest sunsetting the Clean Water Legacy Act and the funding that goes with it called Clean Water Legacy fund. Read on.

On November 4th 56% of the people of Minnesota voted to increase their taxes with the new money going to wildlife, water, parks and arts. The general reference is that the new money will be used for water projects, waterfowl, and wetlands. This perception is correct, but there is more – in fact there are four pots of money.

This new money is to be collected every time we pay sales tax. The store in which the purchase is made then remits the money to the state of Minnesota. Nothing new here. What is new is that an additional 3/8ths of 1% will be collected starting July 1. This new money is more or less permanent funding (for the next 25 years). No senators or representatives have to discuss or debate the merits of spending this money. The wording of the amendment divides up all money collected into four funds or pots. For clarity, let’s call this new money generated by the tax increase-the (1)Wildlife, (2)Water, (3)Parks, and (4)Arts money. During the campaign, the initiative was referred to as the Natural Resource and Cultural Heritage amendment.

This initiative started out being a conservation effort and in a compromise to get enough votes to have it placed on the ballot, the legislature had to include funding for arts or culture. The wording of the amendment is that 33% of the tax collected will go to Wildlife, 33% will go to Water, 14.25% will go to Parks (or trails), and 19.75% to the Arts (or cultural heritage). For illustrative purposes it is easier to call the pots of money Wildlife, Water, Parks, and Arts.

The Lessard Outdoor Council has gotten some ink in the newspapers lately. This council was created specifically by the legislature in a law passed in 2008. The law (Chapter 368) governs the expenditure of the above referenced funds and creates the Lessard Council. This 12-member council is directed to make recommendations to the legislature on the appropriation of the money collected and placed in the Wildlife pot. The Lessard Council is directed to work closely with the Legislative Commission on Natural Resources (LCMR) and the Clean Water Council, which was created by the Clean Water Legacy Act.

The Clean Water Legacy and the Clean Water Council are not a part of this new sales tax money. This clean water money and clean water council uses money that was allocated by the legislature since 2006 through the Clean Water Legacy Act (CWLA). The act established the Clean Water Council – a 23 member advisory group appointed by the Governor. They are to advise the legislature on how to spend the money allocated. This pot of money was filled with $24.950 million in 2006 and in 2007; the legislature appropriated an additional $53.975 million to be used for the 2008-09 biennium. According to a report the council published in December 2008, they are requesting $97,829 million for fiscal years 20010-11.

Going back to the sales tax and the four pots of money. The water fund – at this time, does not have an advisory group to suggest ways for it to be spent. The amendment indicated that the money deposited in the water fund, the parks fund, and the arts fund will be subject to the recommendations of the Governor when he presents his budget. Since the Clean Water Council is already in place, it would make sense to use them as an advisory group for the use of the water money. And since this new money is more or less permanent, it would make sense to sunset the Clean Water Legacy statute and quit funding it. (Information from Fiscal Analysis Department, Minnesota House of Representatives, October 2008; Biennial Report on Clean Water Legacy Act, December 2008.) end

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