Lawmakers look into outdoors funding
ST. PAUL -- Seventy-three outdoors projects ranging from producing geologic atlases to restoring wetlands to getting urban children outside would get funds under bills Minnesota senators considered Tuesday.
The two measures, from citizen-legislator committee recommendations, would spend $85 million. Similar bills are making their way through the House process as well.
A $26 million bill funding recommendations from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources tentatively passed the Senate. Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, who authored both bills, tabled discussion on the second one, which would fund $59 million in Lessard-Sams Outdoors Heritage Council projects, to further discuss a proposed amendment.
Lessard-Sams funds come from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008. The legislative-citizen commission projects would be funded by lottery money set aside for outdoors uses.
Included in one of the bills is $4.2 million to buy more state park and other land, which brought strong opposition from Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.
"I don't think this is the year to be buying land," Bakk said. "I think this is the year we should be creating jobs."
Bakk suggested spending the funds on creating 84 jobs instead of buying land that would take more state money to maintain.
The senator offered an amendment to ban buying more land, but later withdrew it in the face of strong opposition.
Anderson said that land with "unique and endangered and threatened species" needs to be bought so it is "saved for future generations."
Added Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley: "We are not making any more land."
However, Bakk did have some support from some senators.
"I don't know why we would want to be buying more land when we can't take care of what we have," Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, said.
While Bakk withdrew his amendment, Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, added a similar one to the House version of the measure as it makes its way through committees.
The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources bill would fund a variety of outdoors issues, including:
-- Nearly $5 million for geologic atlases, hydrological research, a wetlands inventory, a bird atlas, Moose habitat and related information.
-- $9.8 million for land easement, purchase and habitat restoration.
-- $3.5 million for evaluating and cleaning state waters.
-- $1.5 million to fight invasive species such as emerald ash borer and plants that overtake existing ones.
-- $3.4 million in renewable energy projects and $2.6 million for environmental education.
The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommends spending $59 million on things such as restoring prairies, buying land for recreation, adding land to wildlife areas, repairing shorelines, protecting forests and restoring wildlife habitat.
Agree to meet
Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty agreed further meetings are needed to pass education reforms that could lead to up to $175 million more federal funds.
But an hour-long, closed-door Tuesday meeting apparently produced no agreements about what reforms should pass.
Sen. LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer and Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville, legislative education finance leaders, said they will host an informal meeting early next week with education committee members, Pawlenty's education commissioner and representatives of education groups such as the Education Minnesota teachers' union.
"There still are a lot of rough edges," Stumpf said.
Stumpf and other legislative leaders said they hope to pass an education reform bill that would not only improve education but could lead to $60 million to $175 million more federal funds in the next four years.
Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said the governor continues to want to see the Q Comp performance pay for teachers spread across the state, allow professionals an easier path to become teachers and take other steps that the Obama administration says are needed to get the additional funding.
The goal is to pass reforms by May 1 to give the state Education Department time to file a revised application to Washington.
Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, blamed Pawlenty for an earlier Minnesota failure to get federal funding, citing a dispute Pawlenty has with Education Minnesota.
He urged the governor to step aside and "let the people who know how to get this done, get it done."