On Thursday, Phyllis Kahn, a legislator for some 40 years now, revealed still more of her peculiar world view, threatening to shift millions of the people’s conservation dollars willy-nilly, dependent on whether prospective recipients of the cash agreed with her plan to overhaul the way Legacy fund dollars are appropriated.
Kahn, who once proposed to lower the state’s voting age to 12, would disagree she threatened anyone. But then Kahn, who declared in November that “someone at the city should be executed’’ over long voting lines, is no stranger to disagreement.
Appointed, curiously, by Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, as chair of the House Legacy Committee, Kahn on Thursday began the wrap-up of her committee’s “review’’ of fish, game and wildlife habitat recommendations forwarded to her panel by the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council.
“Review’’ is in quotes because, more specifically, she and various of her DFL colleagues rewrote the recommendations, adding projects the council didn’t support and, for good measure, spending some $60 million in the second year of the biennium the council didn’t even consider, this because the council’s charge, correctly, is to review projects submitted to it annually, not biennially.
Viewed up close and personal, as a few dozen onlookers did Thursday, some with teeth grinding, Kahn’s shenanigans suggested the venality of all legislative processes held captive by arrogance.
But that’s not the half of it. Her plan, ultimately, as revealed in an amendment to the Legacy bill she intends to pass out of her committee today, is to neuter the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council by flip-flopping the numerical advantage, 7-5, that citizen members of the council now hold over the panel’s legislators — changing it instead to 10 legislators and seven citizens.
Kahn also proposes to change the council’s name from Lessard-Sams to the Legislative-Citizen Council on Outdoor Heritage.
Recall now that in the 10-year run-up to passage by about 60 percent of voters in 2008 of the Legacy Amendment, Kahn played no important role. Copied after a Missouri constitutional amendment, Minnesota’s Legacy Amendment proposal — introduced first by then-Sen. Bob Lessard — asked Minnesota voters to increase the state sales tax fractionally and dedicate the proceeds not only to fish, game and wildlife habitat, but to parks and trails, and arts and cultural heritage.
Key to the amendment’s selling job to voters by proponents was that, regarding the game, fish and wildlife portion of Legacy money — some $100 million this year — a 12-member, citizen-dominated council would review project proposals for recommendation to the Legislature.
Thus was born the Lessard-Sams council, the latter half of the name dedicated to the late Dallas Sams of Staples.
Why a council? Because the Legislature’s conservation track record has been marked too often by the selling of the state’s resources to the highest bidders regardless of the broader public interest. Witness the loss of 90 percent of the state’s farmland wetlands as one example among many.
Worse, regarding passage in 1988 of the lottery and its theoretical financial safeguarding of the state’s environment, legislators have proved themselves untrustworthy of keeping sacrosanct such new cash piles, soon rerouting, as they did with the lottery money, a portion of the receipts to the general fund, not the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, as voters had been promised.
Thus in 2008, hunters and anglers, who formed the backbone of Legacy Act voters, were promised that a citizen-dominated council, not the Legislature, would review Legacy Act fish, game and wildlife habitat proposals. In the years since, the council has accomplished this task without fear or favor, acting only in the interest of the state’s resources according to a thoughtfully produced long-term conservation plan.
Though Kahn and her committee have no similar plan, it’s likely the panel will pass her Legacy rewrite today. Whether other House chairs, or Speaker Thissen, wish to seal their political fates with the state’s sportsmen and women by passing the measure through their committees or off the House floor remains to be seen.
What is known is the bill is going nowhere in the Senate. Known as well is that Gov. Mark Dayton promised the following while campaigning: “I want everyone to know that if I’m the governor, the sportsmen and women of this state will have a friend in the governor’s office, and I will veto any attempt to usurp the authority of the Lessard-Sams Council.’’
Attempt to usurp the authority of the Lessard-Sams council.
A good description, that. And prophetic.