The Free Press, Mankato, MN


April 8, 2013

Our View: Stop the Legacy power grab

— Another legislative a session, another attack on citizen involvement in helping guide how the state's natural resources are protected.

Sixty percent of Minnesotans approved the Legacy Amendment in 2007, dedicating a slice of sales tax money for environmental projects, arts and trails.

A vital component of the amendment was to ensure citizen involvement in recommending what projects get funding, with the Legislature the ultimate legal authority in approving the spending.

Since then, the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council -- eight appointed citizens and four legislators -- has sifted through the numerous funding requests and is making recommendations for approval by lawmakers.

To help it make decisions, the council developed a long-term conservation plan that requires projects be science-based and holds recipients accountable for results. The group operates with transparency and virtually every hunting and conservation group has supported the process.

But once again some lawmakers, particularly those from the Twin Cities metro, are itching to do what they can to bypass the council and the citizen input it provides.

House Legacy Committee chair Phyllis Kahn and others have been working to rewrite the recommendations forwarded by the Lessard-Sams council and adding projects not recommended by the panel.

There's also an attempt to change the current annual funding to a two-year cycle, something conservation groups say would make it more difficult to respond quickly to conservation opportunities   

It's not the first time lawmakers have taken aim at the council's work. One reason is purely for power: many lawmakers want the power to dole out project funding to favored constituencies.

Another reason is metro envy. Metro parks advocates have long complained that they do not get enough of the funding pie for parks. A DNR task force recommended a breakdown of 40 percent for the metro, 40 percent for the DNR parks program and 20 percent for a greater Minnesota parks.

Metro proponents say they have more than half the state's population and should get more park funding. It's true they have the population. But the state parks and regional and county parks in outstate Minnesota are used heavily by metro residents. And the sprawling, heavily used state parks -- particularly in Northern Minnesota  -- require adequate funding.

Kahn and others are attempting to divert more money to metro parks, even thought the Lessard-Sams council deemed them not worthy of funding.

Picking the most worthwhile projects amid many requests is difficult, but the current system has provided the best, most objective process for doing it, while giving citizens plenty of chance for input.

Lawmakers need to keep their hands off a good thing.

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