$300 million in environmental projects closer to realityby Stephanie Hemphill, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Dozens of environmental projects to be paid for with new sales tax money are a step closer to reality, after a Senate committee vote Tuesday.
The Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Budget Division approved more than $300 million in projects over the next two years.
Last fall, Minnesota voters approved a constitutional amendment to provide sales tax funding for outdoors projects and the arts.
Committee chair, DFL Senator Ellen Anderson of St. Paul, said people worked together to put the voter-approved tax to good use.
"There's been some criticism, veiled or not-so-veiled, that we had to put this on the ballot because the legislature and the governor never really did the job," Anderson said. "What I would like to say is we never had the money to do the job before. But now that we have the money, we know exactly what to do with it."
DFL Senator Patricia Torres Ray said her Minneapolis constituents ask whether the money is doing enough to help the environment in the city. She said even though many of the projects are in greater Minnesota, everyone will benefit.
"I am a senator that represents the city of Minneapolis here, but my responsibility is to make sure that we protect the environment on the planet, and the entire state of Minnesota is part of that planet, and we need to do this together," TorresRay said.
The measure would fund projects to clean up polluted lakes and rivers, buy land and easements for wildlife habitat, and improve parks and trails. The bill now heads to the Senate Finance Committee, and then to the Senate floor.
A companion bill in the House faces more committee hearings.