Conservation Minnesota

January 2011 Budget Report

With the first round of funding from the state’s newly enacted Legacy Amendment in place, a new study shows the overall impact has been to return conservation spending to roughly the same place they were back in 2001.  The independent analysis of Fiscal Year 2010 (FY2010) of the Clean Water, Land, and Legacy Amendment (CWLLA) comes from a report conducted by Conservation Minnesota and Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.

The report finds that the state has met the benchmarks the voters set by passing CWLLA, but issues remain as to the transparency of the spending and if future CWLLA funding will supplant rather than supplement existing dollars.

“Our share of state spending isn’t better, but it is back to what it was ten years ago,” said Paul Austin, Executive Director of Conservation Minnesota.

Conservation projects received about 2 percent of the state general fund budget for the past three decades, but, since 2001, levels dipped to just over 1 percent of the state general fund.  New Legacy dollars have nearly returned overall spending on conservation to levels prior to 2001 and neglected projects have been started. For example, water quality testing, as required by the 1972 Clean Water Act, had been delayed, but as of FY2010, 40 percent of our lakes, rivers, and streams have been tested and show unacceptable pollution levels.

The report finds annual funding has increased:
•    Clean water $75 million
•    Habitat $75 million
•    Parks and trails $33 million
•    Arts $43 million

No single type of activity was dominant.  Spending was allocated 74% statewide and across these programs:
•    Water Testing and Monitoring 12.1 percent.
•    Restoration and Water Treatment 18.8 percent
•    Easement Acquisition nearly 16 percent
•    Arts and History 19.75 percent
•    Administrative costs 3 percent
•    Land Acquisition12.7 percent

The report also shows areas of concern for conservation and arts supporters.  The veto of key projects including parks and trails, landfill cleanup, and Wildlife Management Areas, reduced funding for conservation by more than $46.4 million.   While some of these funds have been deferred and must be repaid in future years, the process raises the question of whether monies have been supplanted rather than supplemented.

“The biggest issues are avoiding supplanting and making sure that amendment resources are spent only on things that are strictly authorized by the constitution,” said Sheila Smith, Executive Director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts. “By and large we have achieved these goals so far, but we need to continue to monitor the situation.”

The report concludes with a series of recommendations for the Governor, legislature, and grant-making bodies and strongly suggests that all legacy grant making processes be transparent, accountable, and involve citizen input.

Download the complete budget analysis.

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