Republicans assumed legislative leadership in November, and the switch from DFL control has been broadly evident in recent days in meetings of two important conservation panels: the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), and the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council (LSOHC).
To the consternation of some of the seven citizen members of the LCCMR, Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, chairman of the House Environment Committee and an LCCMR member, said at a recent commission meeting that he wanted to review project recommendations that the group prepared last year for the Legislature.
In an interview, McNamara said eight of 10 lawmakers on the commission are new to it, and it's their obligation -- and right -- to review the $52 million in projects (over two years) that the panel will forward to the Legislature.
McNamara also believes the LCCMR -- which allots money from lottery proceeds -- has strayed too far in its funding suggestions from what voters intended in 1988 when they passed a constitutional amendment establishing the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund.
"We have some projects in the recommendations that raise red flags for me,'' McNamara said. "There's lots of money for research and studies, and not so much for actual work on the ground to improve habitat. There's some good stuff in the recommendations. But we have to ask ourselves, are studies what the lottery was created for?''
McNamara thinks, for example, that lottery money is ideally suited to fight invasive species such as zebra mussels and Asian carp. The state's general fund, he said, likely will be unable to pay for such projects. But LCCMR money would work.
For that to happen, some -- or perhaps many -- of the projects approved by the previous LCCMR panel will have to be cut. Which will take time, McNamara said, perhaps the entire legislative session, with the LCCMR meeting weekly.
"The Legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 23," he said. "We'll get it done by then.''
No doubt some observers -- particularly those in the DFL, as well as those who will lose funding during the project review -- will argue that Republicans are running roughshod over the process in not honoring work already done.
But others agree with McNamara that the LCCMR lost its way some years ago and that in fact it funds too many studies and not enough dirt-beneath-the-fingernails work benefiting land and water conservation.
Whether that's true, McNamara says a project list must be put together that will pass in the Republican-controlled Legislature. And it won't pass the LCCMR recommendations as currently written.
Fireworks -- or at least sparks -- also can be expected in coming weeks during deliberations of the Lessard-Sams Council, which recommends about $81 million in Legacy Amendment fish, game and wildlife habitat projects.
Monday morning, McNamara sought support from fellow council members for a plan to set aside in special funds 20 percent of any Legacy Amendment money spent to buy land.
Ten percent would pay for future enhancement and restoration of purchased properties, and 10 percent would be set aside for distribution to townships and counties near where land is bought.
The general intent, McNamara said, is to placate local governments and others (including some farmers) who oppose land purchases for state wildlife management areas (for one example).
How widespread and powerful holders of this sentiment are in the Legislature is uncertain. But McNamara, among others, believes opposition to land purchases should be dealt with this session, if not with action then at least with a discussion of the issue.
McNamara also believes that creating a fund for ongoing restoration and enhancement (read maintenance) of purchased lands makes sense and would address concerns among legislators who worry that little will be done with purchased lands to optimize their conservation values.
But creating such funds could cause constitutional problems, because it's unclear whether Legacy Amendment money can be reserved as McNamara proposes. Moreover, local governments already are reimbursed by the state for the taxes lost when the state buys land. And the reimbursements often exceed the amount in taxes paid when the land was privately held.
It's also uncertain whether some Legacy Amendment opponents can ever be satisfied, particularly those in agriculture. Example: One argument by some in farming is that Legacy Amendment money drives up cropland values, reducing their ability to expand their operations through their own land purchases.
More truthfully, the hundreds of millions of dollars issued each year to Minnesota farmers in federal agriculture program payouts drive up farmland values.
That said, at least some opposition to Legacy Amendment land purchases is reasonably founded, and, as McNamara says, the issue is better addressed than left to simmer.
Dennis Anderson • email@example.com