Under pressure from outdoors and environmental groups, legislative leaders met this week to try to revive the conservation funding bill they couldn't agree on during the regular session that ended last month.
House Republicans tried to jump-start the talks by reversing their no-tax increase position. GOP leaders said they'd support a ballot question that would raise the state sales tax by one-eighth of 1 percent. The $90 million in proceeds would be divided between water cleanup and hunting habitat restoration.
DFL Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson formally responded to the offer with a flat rejection. Johnson says the proposal would not provide as much money as outdoor groups were seeking. He also said the exclusion of money for parks, trails and the arts would doom the bill in the Senate.
"There still continues to be some lagging questions about this constitutional amendment. And we believe that based on that, it would not be in the best interest of the governor then to call a special session," said Johnson. "This issue should remain for 2007, when we can appropriately fund our game and fish fund, conservation, wildlife, parks and the arts and culture."
This week's last-ditch negotiations came at the request of a coalition of sportsmen and women, and environmental groups. Representative of groups sent a letter to the legislative leaders, urging them to talk and to try reach a compromise.
The House sponsor of the constitutional amendment bill Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, was disappointed with Johnson's announcement. Hackbarth says he's done negotiating until next year.
"The DFL Senate and the majority leader Dean Johnson have consistently said all session long this was a priority for them -- and it's not, apparently not," Hackbarth said. "They did not negotiate during the regular session when we should have got this done, and now they're not negotiating again. We have been consistently negotiating in good faith, and essentially negotiating against myself trying to get a deal done for the hunting and fishing crowd of Minnesota. And the Senate is not recognizing that."
Hackbarth has predicted hunting and fishing enthusiasts might look for someone to blame when they vote in November. All House and Senate seats are up for election this year.
But one sportsman doesn't think inaction would hurt one political party more than another. Wendell Diller of Oakdale, who supports the constitutional amendment, says outdoor enthusiasts with election-day revenge in mind will likely cancel each other out.
"There are enough on the Democratic side that will blame the Republicans, and vice versa, that even within our own clean water coalition it's probably a wash," said Diller. Hunters, anglers and other outdoor groups have been working on a dedicated funding amendment for eight years. They're expected to continue their push at the Capitol next January.
Sen. Johnson and Rep. Hackbarth both say the bill will be a top priority in the 2007 session.
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