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What's cut, kept in divisive Legacy bill

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The $496 million Legacy bill lawmakers sent to Gov. Mark Dayton on Monday received the most 'no' votes ever recorded for spending through the amendment voters approved in 2008 to send sales tax money to clean water, the outdoors, arts and parks.

The bill passed with a 43-21 vote in the Senate and a 77-57 vote in the House. While House members have opposed the final Legacy bill in the past, no senator had ever voted against the overall Legacy spending package.

"For the first time in four years, I'm going to be asking the members of this body to vote against this," said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.

The main points of contention for Ingebrigtsen and many other lawmakers are two projects receiving outdoors money that were not recommended by the Lessard Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, the group charged with vetting proposals and giving the Legislature recommendations on how to spend the outdoors portion of the Legacy money. Two dozen groups signed a letter asking Dayton to veto the projects.

But Republican lawmakers had other complaints, as well. 

"Going into conference committee, there was a House position for funding of county fairs at $2.8 million, there was a Senate position for funding of county fairs at $800,000 and somehow we added those two together and came up with zero," said Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska. 

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who chaired the House Legacy Committee, replied that county fairs are still receiving $2 million for arts and cultural heritage — in the agriculture budget bill.

Torkelson also complained that the Clean Water Council's recommendations were "micromanaged." Lawmakers decided to spend more money on groundwater protection.

"I would hope that in the future we respect these folks who put in long days and work hard on these issues and make recommendations. Not that we can't make any changes in the Legislature — we can and we should when it's appropriate. But we should not do a wholesale micromanagement of these funds," he said.

FEW CHANGES IN ARTS FUNDING

Besides removing county fair funding from the Legacy bill, there were few major changes to the arts portion of the bill. 

Regional libraries had been concerned about a cut in their funding, but lawmakers came up with the same amount — $6 million for the next two years — as the libraries had received in the last two years. 

The State Arts Board receives 47 percent of the arts money under the bill. Although arts advocates had sought 50 percent, they said they were satisfied with the final package. 

One new cause receiving arts money under the bill is an effort to help small movie theaters in rural Minnesota convert to digital technology. Sen. Richard Cohen, DFL-St. Paul, who chaired the Senate Legacy Committee, said movie theaters shouldn't expect to keep receiving the money after this year. 

"You end up with so many mouths to feed and pretty soon you end up with less and less money for the parts of the bill that take priority," he said. Cohen said it would have been more appropriate to include the funding in an economic development bill.

Minnesota Public Radio is set to receive $3 million in the next two years from the Legacy bill's Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.