The much-ballyhooed “nuclear option” invoked in Washington on Thursday describes the method by which the U.S. Senate might confirm judge Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court.
Time is now for Gov. Mark Dayton to consider a similar ploy — the Big Bang option — in Minnesota, and veto this session’s Legacy bill if it comes to him in any form similar to the one the House has passed.
As in Washington, Republicans are in charge in the Minnesota Legislature — for now. And in the House, under the leadership of Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown (Isanti County) they’re having some fun this session attempting to unravel the state’s environmental protections, as evidenced by the $500 million Legacy bill the House has passed.
Recall the Legacy Amendment was approved by Minnesota voters in 2008 by a wide margin. This was a constitutional revision that nearly 60 percent of voters favored — an amazing statistic, given that the question asked was whether voters wanted to raise their taxes to support stewardship of the state’s woods, waters, fields and wildlife; enhance and expand state parks and trails; and promote the state’s arts and cultural heritage.
Recall also this was in 2008, in the depths, or nearly so, of the great recession.
Placing the question on the ballot was no small feat. More than 10 years passed from the time the idea was proposed in the Legislature by hunters and anglers to the day lawmakers relented, most of them reluctantly, and allowed Minnesotans, finally, to have their say regarding the welfare of their state.
Now comes Republican control of the Senate and House, and members of the latter chamber are betting they can pull a fast one — or five, or 10 — on Minnesotans by loading up this year’s Legacy bill (and other bills) with policy and funding adjustments that inhibit, and even stop, conservation progress in the state.
Exhibit 1: The citizen-dominated Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council studiously examines habitat and other proposals to be paid for by the Outdoor Heritage fund (a Legacy fund), and this year unanimously recommended its slate of projects to the Legislature. But the House substantially altered the recommendations, cutting shallow lake and wetland protections, as well as wildlife management area and scientific and natural area acquisitions.
Exhibit 2: House Republicans inserted into their Legacy bill (HF 707) an option for counties to proclaim “no net gain of public land” in their counties. Conservation lands (such as wildlife management areas) acquired in such counties with Outdoor Heritage fund money must trigger the sale of similar pieces of property in the county to a private individual, according to the provision.
Exhibit 3: Republicans also lopped about $20 million from its intended purpose (clean water) from the Clean Water fund (also a Legacy fund) in the House Legacy bill to cover instead administrative costs of county soil and water conservation districts (SWCD). These agencies do great work, but their overhead costs should be paid from the general fund.
Republicans reapportioned about $20 million that the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) — again, studiously — had reviewed and recommended for projects that benefit conservation and the environment, allotting the money instead to pay for CREP, or the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program. A great program, CREP, but the governor’s intent, correctly, was to fund it from bonding.
Finally, House Republicans want to create a new fund essentially within the constitutionally dedicated Outdoor Heritage fund, with the specific requirement that the sub-fund be used to pay property taxes on lands acquired with the Outdoor Heritage Fund (the taxes now in most cases are paid out of the general fund). If this is proved unconstitutional (it will be), the provision adds that no lands can be acquired with the fund.
Upshot: If a Legacy bill even remotely resembling the one the House has passed reaches Dayton’s desk, he should veto it — all $500 million of it.
This would mean Minnesota Public Radio, the arts, parks and trails — all of them, would go unfunded this year.
Which is fine. Better the money be unspent and remain in the respective dedicated funds another year, or longer, than be misspent.
A Dayton veto also will serve as a litmus test of sorts that would show who actually cares about Minnesota’s environment.
Doubtless some would-be beneficiaries of the $500 million would be willing to look the other way while the state’s environment protections are gutted, so long as they get their money.
This won’t include hunters, anglers and other conservationists.
They put about 6,500 people on the Capitol Mall two years running to get the Legacy proposal on the ballot, and if they have to do it again to get the money spent correctly they will.
A bipartisan poll commissioned in February by the Minnesota Environment Partnership affirms Minnesotans’ unwavering support for the environment: 75 percent statewide support the Legacy Amendment, including 73 percent outstate.
Big Bang is an option. As necessary, Dayton should use it.