Frontenac and other state parks attract throngs of outdoors enthusiasts each year.
A key Republican Senate leader on Wednesday labeled as a "scare tactic'' a DFL claim that as many as 26 state parks could close this year if Republicans' budget-wielding ax slices as deeply as proposed.
The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, voted along party lines Tuesday to approve an approximate 17 percent reduction in general fund appropriations for the DNR, and Sen. Tom Saxhaug, DFL-Grand Rapids, fired back, calling the move "extreme.''
"This is the type of impact Minnesotans are going to see with an all-cuts budget,” said Saxhaug. “We are proud of our outdoor heritage and shutting down that many parks will not sit well with folks. This is a time to show our constituents what our priorities are. We are telling Minnesotans that state parks are expendable when it comes to meeting the bottom line.”
But Ingebrigtsen said a shift by his committee of $3 million that had been designated for planning and initial construction at the new Lake Vermilion State Park will keep current parks operating over the next two years, albeit perhaps with minor cutbacks.
"I think it's a pretty easy sell to the public that we don't need to be planning a new park'' when the parks we have need money to operate, Ingebrigtsen said.
The Lake Vermilion planning money had been part of a funding package recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). That panel's suggestions already had undergone substantial changes initiated by Ingebrigtsen and Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings. Both are LCCMR members, and McNamara chairs Ingebrigtsen's counterpart committee in the House.
Ingebrigtsen's committee also voted to close the state's nurseries and sell off the program's equipment and other assets, which could fetch $1 million. And the panel wiped out the entire $910,000 general fund appropriation to the Minnesota Conservation Corps.
Gov. Mark Dayton's budget also calls for general fund cuts to outdoors and natural resources programs, but the reductions — totaling about $20 million — are about $9 million less than what the Senate committee approved Tuesday. Notably, in the governor's budget, the state nurseries are retained, and increases in fishing and hunting license fees, and boat registration fees are offered.
The boat registration hike would raise about $7.5 million to fight aquatic invasive species over two years, while the license fee increase would add about $20.5 million to the Game and Fish Fund.
The latter increase is needed, the DNR says, to keep the Game and Fish Fund in the black.