A work group charged with studying how Legacy Amendment parks funding should be distributed presented its recommendations to Minnesota state officials Wednesday.
Parks and trails representatives for the Twin Cities metropolitan area, greater Minnesota and the state park system have issued a report recommending that 40 percent of the funds go to the metro, 40 percent to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources for state parks and trails and 20 percent to greater Minnesota.
The parks funding has been the subject of contentious debates at the Legislature since the constitutional amendment passed in 2008. Legislators from the Twin Cities have disagreed with legislators from greater Minnesota on how to distribute the funds.
Parks and trails receive 14.25 percent of the sales tax dollars generated through the Legacy Amendment, which Minnesota voters passed in 2008.
The group recommends the formula be adopted for the next three two-year budget cycles, but said more data is needed to ensure the distribution remains fair.
The group said setting aside funds to collect certain information, such as data on park visitors and population growth, will help guide policy decisions in the future.
While the Metropolitan Council and DNR have been collecting that kind of data, more information is needed about greater Minnesota parks, the report said.
"The strong sense amongst the three systems that helped create this in the first place is that that 40-40-20 split is fair and reasonable based on what we know today, especially given the fact that we're making that investment in developing the data set for the future," said Mike Harley, executive director of the Environmental Initiative, which facilitated the discussions.
Harley said the group looked at a range of criteria for deciding how to distribute the money — everything from where sales tax is generated and collected to whether a park has endangered species.
"There are other criteria that could be considered, but the ones that really stand out are population, population growth, park acres and trails, operating expenditures and visitation," he said.
The work group hopes its recommendations will be reflected in DFL Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed two-year budget, which the Legislature will vote on in the spring.
At least one stakeholder group, the Parks and Trails Council of Minnesota, supports the recommendations.
"We are very much hopeful that the governor and the Legislature will accept these recommendations and move forward," said Brett Feldman, executive director of the council. "We've seen the previous legislative sessions where there's been battling between the different groups and we'd like to not see that happen this year."