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My View: GOP House plan undermines Legacy, outdoors funding

Discussion in 'Minnesota Flyway Forum' started by h2ofwlr, Apr 26, 2017.

  1. h2ofwlr

    h2ofwlr Elite Refuge Member

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    My View: GOP House plan undermines Legacy, outdoors funding

    Mankato Free Press,
    23 hrs ago
    Rare are times when citizens cast a vote in favor of higher taxes for themselves.

    But back in November, 2008 — even as the national economy was taking a nose dive — nearly 60 percent of Minnesotans who went to the polls did just that by approving a constitutional amendment to raise the state sales tax by 3/8ths of 1 percent, dramatically underscoring the value they place in their outdoor and cultural heritage.

    The measure, which has come to be known as the Legacy Amendment, called for money raised from the increase to be spent only on conservation, wildlife habitat acquisition and improvements, clean water issues, expansion of state parks and trails, and arts and heritage.

    Since 2009, millions of dollars raised from the tax have been distributed to arts and heritage entities. However, the lion’s share — about 80 percent — has been spent on fish and wildlife habitat issues, clean water and state parks and trails.

    About a third is dedicated to the Outdoor Heritage Fund, that part of the Legacy Amendment focusing on wildlife habitat.

    Recognizing the danger in allowing politicians to make spending decisions, a key provision of the amendment called for the formation of a committee of eight citizens and only four legislators to review annual projects submitted by various conservation groups vying for Legacy funds.

    Known as the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the group then passes along its recommendations to the Legislature for action.

    A key duty of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources since the 1950s has been acquiring land to establish Wildlife Management Areas and other public recreational areas.

    Traditionally, it has been at a snail’s pace always with more willing sellers than the DNR could afford to accommodate with its limited funding.

    The availability of Legacy Funds and through partnerships formed with conservation groups like Ducks Unlimited, Pheasants Forever, Blue Earth County Pheasants Inc., The National Wild Turkey Federation and Minnesota Deer Hunters Association, the acquisition process has accelerated significantly.

    Thousands of Minnesota acres of wildlife habitat once ringed by No Trespassing signs or in danger of falling to the plow or development now sport yellow State Wildlife Management Area signs proclaiming the area “Open to Public Hunting,” ensuring that our children and grandchildren will have access to outdoor recreation.

    Apparently House members don’t believe this is such a good thing.

    House File 707 — the Legacy Omnibus Bill — is a ponderous one dealing with the disbursement of millions of dollars raised from the Legacy sales tax.

    There’s a lot there to digest, but lurking within the scores of provisions are several key changes that directly undermine what many of us voted for in 2008.

    The House significantly changed recommendations made by the LSOHC dealing with proposed shallow water and wetland protection and acquisition of lands for wildlife management and scientific and natural area acquisitions.

    House members tinkered further with the Legacy bill by slipping in a “no net gain of public land” option counties could adopt if they choose to.

    Under the option, counties could demand any land acquisition to establish conservation areas such as WMAs and SNAs would require the sale of similar existing public properties to private parties.

    Other changes include redirecting $20 million from the Clean Water fund away from projects and used instead to cover the administrative costs of soil and water conservation districts. Such costs customarily have come from the state’s general fund.

    House members didn’t stop there.

    They also raided the Environmental Trust Fund to the tune of some $20 million, redirecting it from projects vetted and recommended by the Legislative Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources to instead pay for the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program.

    No one would argue that CREP isn’t a worthy program. However, it typically is funded by bonding.

    Lastly, the bill establishes a new fund within the dedicated Outdoor Heritage fund to pay property taxes on lands acquired with the fund instead of from the state’s general funds, the current practice.

    House members then added a poison pill with a provision that if the property tax payment method is declared unconstitutional — a likely scenario since Outdoor Heritage funds are constitutionally dedicated for purposes other than property taxes — then no land at all could be acquired with the fund.

    It would be nice to keep politics out of this but it’s hard to ignore that Republicans now control the House.

    And to be fair, a few Democratic House members have attempted to tinker with provisions of the Legacy Amendment when they were still calling the shots in that body.

    Of course, this is exactly why we voters approved the constitutional change in the first place. We didn’t trust lawmakers to do the right thing in 2008 and it’s becoming apparent they can’t be trusted to do the right thing in 2017.

    Minnesota voters may have handed the ball over a new team last November. It’s becoming pretty apparent they are running for the wrong goal line.

    John Cross is a retired Free Press photo editor and outdoors columnist. He lives in St. Peter.
     
  2. KENNEDY63

    KENNEDY63 Elite Refuge Member

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    In all of these sky is falling type articles, not one author ever takes a stab at just how much land the government should own, and who should pay for its upkeep, taxes, etc. etc. etc.

    Here's an idea - a user fee. You want to use state lands - you pay a fee much like a state parks sticker. All funds to be used to pay for upkeep, property taxes, etc.

    But no - folks like the author want to continue to free load off of the general fund.

    Or better yet - let's redirect the portion of dedicated funding that the Dems stole to pay for the arts.
     
  3. Marshmaster

    Marshmaster Elite Refuge Member

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    How did they steal it?
     
  4. h2ofwlr

    h2ofwlr Elite Refuge Member

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    As I recall, the outdoors funding was proposed at 1/8 of 1%. They upped it to 3/16 of 1% and included the Parks and Arts portion. So I would not call that stealing it from the outdoors portion.
    Unless one were call any sales tax "stealing" from the taxpayers.
     
  5. KENNEDY63

    KENNEDY63 Elite Refuge Member

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    I think that Anderson originally pushed 1/4 of 1%. The portion for the outdoors was watered down by the Dems to make such Amendment "politically palatable". Garry Leaf would know.
     
  6. KENNEDY63

    KENNEDY63 Elite Refuge Member

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  7. KENNEDY63

    KENNEDY63 Elite Refuge Member

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    Reply by Gunther:

    Guest Column: House Legacy bill allows for land purchases
    [​IMG]
    By Submitted

    Email the author

    Published 11:04 pm Wednesday, May 10, 2017


    Guest Column by Bob Gunther

    Recently, Dick Herfindahl penned a column discussing a House bill that allocates more than $500 million in Legacy Amendment funding over the next two years.

    As chairman of the Legacy funding committee, let me first express my gratitude that our bill was approved on a bipartisan, unanimous 131-0 vote in the House.

    It’s good legislation: More than $100 million restores and protects Minnesota’s water; $22 million provides buffer aid to counties; and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program investments will help us leverage $350 million in federal funds.

    It also contains necessary reforms. The bill creates a 5 percent reserve within each fund, protecting the health and integrity of the funds if the forecast changes. It also directs the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council to focus on enhancements of current land instead of the purchasing of new land, which is needed to ensure there’s more accountability in how funds are spent.

    Herfindahl and others have claimed that this bill will discourage, if not outright stop future purchases of land in the state of Minnesota. These allegations are simply false.

    [​IMG]
    Bob Gunther
    The House legislation still allows the state to acquire significant land. While we made some changes to the Lessard-Sams recommendations to the bill, it still has the opportunity to purchase nearly 10,000 acres of land with roughly $30 million.

    And as we debate Minnesota’s land purchases, let’s provide some context. The state of Minnesota owns 8.5 million acres of land. The federal government owns another 3.4 million acres. That means roughly one-fourth of the land within our borders already sits in the hands of government — and this does not include land that is owned by nonprofits. In the United States, Minnesota ranks fourth in terms of state land ownership.

    Since 2009, Minnesota has purchased an average of 10,000 acres a year with Legacy money. Once the state owns it, the county of origin loses its ability to collect taxes on it. Who makes up the financial difference? Home county property owners through higher taxes.

    To me, if Legacy funds are used to buy land and remove it from county control, then those same funds should be used to maintain the full property tax obligations so local taxpayers are held harmless.

    According to law, Outdoor Heritage Funds “may be spent only to restore, protect, and enhance wetlands, prairies, forest and habitat for fish, game, and wildlife.” Nowhere in the Constitutional language does it say funding must be used for state land purchases.

    Folks can disagree with the priorities brought forward by the House Legacy Committee this session if they wish, but it is simply incorrect to suggest that the House is attempting to limit your public land hunting opportunities — especially when one-fourth of the state is already owned by government and money was approved in this year’s bill to purchase even more land.

    State Rep. Bob Gunther, R-Fairmont, is the chairman of the Minnesota House Legacy Funding Finance Committee.
     
  8. prairie hunter

    prairie hunter Elite Refuge Member

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    ND was allowing counties, maybe even township boards to limit land acquisition some 20-30 plus years ago.
     
  9. prairie hunter

    prairie hunter Elite Refuge Member

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    Thanks for sharing.

    I agree that funds should be set aside to maintain any future land acquisitions. Similar to groups that want to raise money to build a hockey rink or swimming pool, hand it over to local government and then let them suffer in managing the losses. A trust fund for maintenance is an excellent idea.

    My observations have been that much of the MN DNR land is relatively poorly managed once you move out of SW MN "flagship" pheasant country. Forests need cutting, prairie needs burning / grazing, wetlands need restoration. Noxious weeds often run rampant on DNR WMAs ... thistle and burning nettle then spill over onto private land. Cedars sprouting across grasslands. Single uni-culture mature forests. More money should be spent on improving what we have now. Heck cutting and grazing should be at worst cost neutral and maybe they even make a dime or two.

    You can often tell which DNR lands have been accumulated via land abandonment vs. acquisition. The land acquired via tax forfeit is often really poor quality.

    The WIA program is nice because it adds to the available hunting area, but maintenance is up to the land owner. It also helps keep land "in nature" that owners have no interest in selling to the government.
     
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  10. prairie hunter

    prairie hunter Elite Refuge Member

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    There are user fees (in a sense). Hunting licenses, state waterfowl, state pheasant, WIA fee, all should allow users access to state land. Not sure I have ever seen a non hunter on any public land designated for primarily for hunting.

    X-country skiers must by a state pass.
     
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