Two outdoor projects in the Legacy bill passed by the Legislature have been line-item vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton: one which provides funding for habitat in the metro area and the other which targets aquatic invasive species. The governor says he responded to citizen pressure to drop funding for the two items.
The $6.3 million for habitat restoration in the metro area was mostly aimed at land and water in parks. The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, which reviews and recommends projects to the Legislature, gave the restoration plan low marks. The Outdoor Heritage Council never saw the other project for $3 million to fight aquatic invasive species.
Dayton's veto message acknowledges he made a deal with legislative leaders near the end of the session to approve the two items. But he immediately received mail and phone calls from outdoor and conservation groups saying he was betraying a long-standing promise to respect the Council's decisions.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, was one of the legislators involved in the end-of-session deal. Kahn chairs the House Legacy committee, and she says Dayton caved to the pressure.
“The metropolitan area is a major part of the Mississippi flyway, which is the most internationally renowned part of Minnesota state's natural heritage map.”Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis
"It's essentially this bullying approach from one sports writer, one ex-football coach and these groups that heavily benefit from their relationship with the Outdoor Heritage Council," Kahn said.
The sports writer is outdoors columnist Dennis Anderson of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, who wrote several columns criticizing the legislative additions; the ex-football coach is Bud Grant, who publicly urged Dayton to veto the measures. The groups referenced include many hunting and fishing and conservation organizations.
Kahn said the Outdoor Heritage Council is prejudiced against the metropolitan area. She says just because most of the metro-area habitat is located in parks should not disqualify them for habitat restoration money.
"The metropolitan area is a major part of the Mississippi flyway, which is the most internationally renowned part of Minnesota state's natural heritage map," Kahn said. "That duck that gets shot in Crow Wing County probably stopped for lunch and breakfast in Hennepin County and Dakota County."
One of the groups that urged Dayton to veto the money is The Nature Conservancy. Isis Stark, the organization's director of government relations for Minnesota, South Dakota, and North Dakota, said the council is not biased against metro area projects.
"They don't try to have a project everywhere in the state; they try to look at the best projects so the citizens feel like they are going to be leaving a legacy at the end of the 25 years of funding, so we can see what we paid for when we passed that amendment," Stark said.
Polling data indicate the overwhelming majority of Minnesotans agree with that approach, Stark said.
On the project related to aquatic invasive species, Stark says the state should deal with that problem using money from the general fund, separate from the Legacy amendment money. The Legacy amendment is funded by a portion of sales tax revenue set aside to improve the environment.
"This constitutional amendment says the state should not be substituting traditional sources of money, and in the past before this funding was available, we had invasive species and we had to fund them, and we should continue to do that from other sources of funding," Stark said.
This is not the first time the Legislature deviated from the Outdoor Heritage Council recommendations. In recent years, legislators have added funding for emerald ash borer and Asian carp problems. They were not vetoed.
The outstate vs. metro fight is unlikely to be resolved anytime soon. Conservation groups say the metro area has received 10 percent of outdoors funding each year since the beginning, while it only represents 3.5 percent of the state's land mass. But metro advocates say most of the money from the sales tax comes from metro area residents, and the metro is where more young people can be introduced to the outdoors.
The metro parks and groups concerned about aquatic invasive species can apply for outdoors funding again next year.