Tougher turf for MPR on Legacy funding?

Legislators meeting on the final language for spending money raised under the Legacy Amendment were dealing an apparent blow to Minnesota Public Radio.

A proposal released on Saturday would require MPR to compete for grants under the two-year-old constitutional amendment, ending the state public radio system's ability to receive direct appropriations. MPR had asked for $3.3 million over the next two years, a figure that represented 4 percent of its statewide services budget.

The proposal that was expected to be voted upon by a House-Senate conference committee later Saturday -- or perhaps Sunday -- would have MPR compete for $2.65 million in grants in each of the next two years.

"We're following the legislative process with interest," said Lisa Radzak, an MPR spokeswoman. "We think Legacy funding of public broadcasting projects is a valuable asset for every area and resident of the state and would support a process that allows those benefits to continue."

The Legacy amendment raised the state sales tax for 25 years to provide money for projects involving the outdoors, clean water, parks and trails and arts and cultural heritage.

Some Republicans have been at odds with MPR over what they see as a liberal bias, and MPR has been under criticism by Republicans who now hold majorities in both the House and Senate.


Agencies balk at funds for Cowles Center

Even though it is not yet open, the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis was a loser on Saturday at the Legislature.

The center sought $154,000 in Legacy amendment money to help cap and seal an abandoned well on the site of the project, but a conference committee eliminated the money in a preliminary vote.

The center, to be opened in September, is named after John and Sage Cowles. John Cowles is a former chief executive of the Star Tribune.

In an unusual move, two state agencies, the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) and Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, objected to having the center receive money for an already-finished project. MPCA Commissioner Paul Aasen said in a letter that it would set a "dangerous precedent."

"It funds a project that is already completed," Aasen said of the well capping. "The costs being reimbursed include loss of time due to construction delays, which has nothing to do with actual clean-water efforts."

John Jaschke, head of the water and soil resources board, agreed. "Retroactive funding is not and never has been allowed in any of our programs because there is no way to verify needs, inspect construction, sign off on completion and address ongoing concerns during the project implementation," he wrote.

John Apitz, an attorney representing the center, unsuccessfully asked the conferees to fund the project and said afterward he would seek other state money before the Legislature adjourned Monday.