Legislature adjourns without passing Legacy billby Elizabeth Dunbar, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Add the Legacy Amendment bill to the list of unfinished work at the Capitol.
The Minnesota House on Monday night debated but did not vote on the measure before the deadline for adjournment. The bill would spend $450 million in the next two years from a constitutionally mandated sales tax for the outdoors, clean water, parks and the arts.
The bill easily passed the Senate after only a short debate. But it faltered in the House on a provision that members from both parties said would make the process for allocating outdoors money less transparent and less accountable.
Some DFL lawmakers also said it was pointless to vote on legislation that wouldn't take effect until after the environment budget bill for the next two years is approved by the GOP-controlled Legislature and signed by Gov. Mark Dayton. The two sides could not reach a budget agreement before Monday's deadline.
LEGACY AND THE OPEN MEETING LAW
A change in how Minnesota's Open Meeting Law would apply to the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council led the House to reject the bill early in the evening and send it back to the Legacy conference committee.
The council, which oversees the third of the 3/8ths of a cent sales tax money dedicated to the outdoors, would have fewer restrictions under the change. Some members of the council requested it to make it easier for them to share a meal or discuss issues while traveling.
But even the representative who co-chaired the Legacy conference committee wasn't comfortable with the provision, agreeing to support an effort to send it back to committee.
"You've just plain persuaded me," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City.
But a couple of hours later, the same bill was back on the House floor, and members from both parties raised similar concerns.
"They could travel all over the state and have all kinds of discussions over breakfast, lunch and dinner ... and the public wouldn't know," said Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville. "The citizens of Minnesota deserve better than that. They voted for this; they need to know how this money is spent."
Concerns over accountability and transparency have been raised since the amendment's passage in 2008. For example, lawmakers criticized a $45,000 speaking fee paid to best-selling author Neil Gaiman using library Legacy money. The Office of the Legislative Auditor this summer plans to release a report on transparency and accountability issues surrounding Legacy money.
Despite assurances that the meetings issue would be addressed later, DFL members gave speech after speech questioning the provision.
Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said the change in rules for the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council was reason enough to reject the whole bill.
"After some of the embarrassing things that have happened with this Legacy Amendment, I think we're going in the absolute wrong way," he said.
MONEY FOR METRO PARKS
If the Open Meeting Law provision wasn't enough to prevent some House members from drawing out the debate, a change in the way some of the parks Legacy money is allocated was.
The bill would allocate about 20 percent of the $78 million in parks and trails money to grants for regional parks and trails. But only parks and trails in greater Minnesota would be eligible for the grants.
Representatives from the metro area were outraged, and some even argued it would go against the spirit of the constitutional amendment.
"We should treat everybody the same in the state. It appears to me that we're not treating everybody the same in this bill," said Rep. Bev Scalze, DFL-Little Canada.
Some Republicans accused Democrats of being too picky.
"This is one of the good things we get to do this session," said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. "You just want to stand up and complain and say no."
As it became clear the House debate would go on until the midnight deadline, DFL lawmakers used it to further their political arguments.
"The reason this money can do good things for the people of our state is because the people of our state overwhelmingly ... voted to raise their taxes," said Rep. Kate Knuth, DFL-New Brighton.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, ended the debate, questioning GOP leaders' priorities.
"It's a meaningless bill until we get a budget bill passed, which you haven't done," he said. "That's kind of how we're going to be leaving the session."
After the House adjourned, Urdahl said he expects a slightly different Legacy bill will pass during a special session.
"This is an important piece of legislation," he said. "They made the decision not to do this bill tonight. ... It's incumbent upon us to get the money disbursed to the people of Minnesota as they expected it to."