The advocacy group Conservation Minnesota next week will release a detailed accounting of state lawmakers’ track record on Legacy spending. In it the Minneapolis-based group raises concerns lawmakers are using Legacy funds in ways that voters didn’t intend when they agreed in 2008 to increase the sales tax to pay for outdoors and cultural projects.
The 23-page report combs through the line items of Legacy legislation and the general fund budget for the environment. It notes that Clean Water Partnership grants in the budget passed last year were cut by 80 percent and a septic system cleanup program wasn’t funded at all. The result, according to Conservation Minnesota, is that those functions are becoming dependent on Legacy funds.
“This pattern of funding—shifting programs away from general funds towards reliance on Legacy funds, with no additional conservation benefit—is what voters understood would be prevented by the prohibition on substitution, and raises warning flags for the future of Legacy funding,” the report states.
The Legacy inserted into the Constitution that the money should be used to “supplement traditional sources of funding” and not be used to “substitute” to pay for existing programs that are paid for with general fund dollars.
The meaning of supplement and substitution has been a matter of interpretation and wordsmithing since the first Legacy bill was passed in 2009. Late last year, the Legislative Auditor released a report that disappointed some outdoors groups when it found the Legacy amendment doesn’t set a floor for environment and natural resources funding in the state budget. But it did call for lawmakers to establish a process for obtaining information on past funding sources and amounts for programs that are in the mix for Legacy funds.
Molly Pederson, Conservation Minnesota’s public affairs director, said the report will be distributed among lawmakers, state agencies and other interested parties. She said she hopes the report, which includes a tabulation of the decline in conservation spending out of the general fund going back to 2000, will serve as a guide for the lawmakers in charting Legacy policy. She also said it’s not meant as a harbinger of legal action.
“We’re not attorneys and we’re not constitutional law scholars. We don’t want to get into whether anyone is going to get sued. What we want to focus on is the fact that the elected officials have a duty to keep in mind their responsibility to the promises that were made to the public about how this was going to result,” Pederson said.
*The full report is available for download here.