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House committee approves change to lottery funds law

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A House committee voted along party lines Wednesday night to change the law that says Environmental Trust Fund money, which is made up of lottery proceeds,  should be used to supplement, not supplant, traditional funding. 

House Environment Committee chairman, Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said he doesn't plan to use lottery money to back-fill cuts in the budget, but he says he's afraid someone might use the language to sue the state.

"This is clearly money that's available to the legislature to do additional things for the environment, and that's what we're doing," McNamara said.

McNamara has also removed 20 projects from a list of recommendations by the lottery funds advisory group, the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources, and substituted five projects that he said meet the priorities of the current legislature.  

Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said it would create a "huge breach of trust" with voters who approved designating lottery money for the environment.

"That's what Minnesotans expected when they voted for the lottery dollars to go into this trust fund," Wagenius said. "And why we would do that now? It appears to me that it's being done in order to use lottery money to back-fill budget holes, and I think that is just simply wrong."

In addition to stripping the "supplement vs. supplant" language from the statute, the committee removed responsibility from the LCCMR for several pots of money it has been overseeing, shifting the power to the Department of Natural Resources.    

The action comes after weeks of late-night meetings in which McNamara and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, chair of the Senate environment committee, tried to persuade the LCCMR to drop 25 of the projects it had recommended, in favor of five new projects the two committee chairs described as fitting the priorities of the current legislature.    

The LCCMR ultimately stood by its original list of recommended projects.  Citizen members of the group said they had worked hard to remove politics from their review process.  The legislature has the final say in how the money is spent.