Posted at 7:11 PM on May 18, 2009
by Tim Nelson
An 11th hour conference committee just passed the so-called "Legacy Amendment" deal over sales tax money for the outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and the arts.
The deal spends $213 million in the next year, including $78 million each for the outdoors and clean water, $33 million for parks and trails and $46 million for the arts. The spending reflects the general direction of the Senate bill - the House wanted to keep more of the funding in reserve and dole it out in more measured doses, via the State Arts Board and the Minnesota Historical Society.
The compromise also eliminates state audits of restoration projects and some of the other restrictive House language. "We didn't get that," said DFL Rep. Jean Wagenius. "Yet."
But there's another catch looming. Retired Senator Bob Lessard, namesake of the council that doles out the outdoor money, was in high dudgeon out in the Capitol rotunda an hour and a half ago. He says the law was intended to preserve, protect and enhance wild lands for fish, game and wildlife.
"It's meant for the wildlife," Lessard said. "All of it."
That's not what the bill says, though. It provides money for prairies, wetlands, forests AND habitat for fish and game. There's no overarching wildlife benefit required in the Constitutional amendment, Wagenius says, so there isn't one in the conference committee report.
It's been one of the lurking debates over the bill for weeks, and it's still there. It's waiting, perhaps, for clarification on the House and Senate floor tonight. Or not.