Gov. Mark Dayton struck out millions of dollars in disputed funding for Metro parks before signing the new Legacy budget into law.
"This decision is extremely difficult for me," Dayton wrote in a letter to House and Senate leaders Thursday. "I attach great importance to keeping my word. Unfortunately, in this instance, I have given contradictory assurances to legislators during the past few days and to thousands of Minnesotans during the past few years. I have decided that I must honor my promise to those citizens."
The $494 million Legacy omnibus pitted lawmakers against the state's Outdoor Heritage Council and other groups. Lawmakers voted to steer $6.3 million to the Metropolitan Council for grants to restore and endangered habitats and another $3 million to battle aquatic invasive species, even though those projects had not been vetted by the council.
The merits of the projects weren't in question, but the way they found their way into the bill brought sharp criticism from outdoor and sporting groups, who feared the Legislature would begin loading future Legacy bills with pork projects.
In a letter to the governor, council member Ron Schara warned: "Funding the metro parks project in this way would set a very bad precedent. Instead of competing before the Council, special interests will bombard the Legacy legislative committees with projects that waste taxpayer dollars and we will end up with one big pork bill. If you do not put things right, the sportsmen will never again believe that it is in their interest to support a tax raise as a way to fund outdoor habitat programs. As the pressure on outdoor habitat increases and the funds dry up, we will all lose."
Dayton said he only agreed to allow the disputed provisions into the final version of the Legacy bill in an effort to break an end-of-session deadlock between House and Senate negotiators.
"At the time, I hoped that the thousands of Minnesotans, who are deeply committed to the work of the Lessard-Sams Council, would accept our compromise," Dayton wrote. "Since the bill's passage, however, I have heard from many organizations, representing thousands of citizens, who believe my approval of those two items would betray the promises I have made repeatedly during the past four years to respect the council's decisions."
Dayton noted that Metro parks are already $65 million from the Legacy bill, which also includes more than $18 million to deal with aquatic invasive species.