Joel Young has been one busy guy.

He is fresh off his success, as Chatfield's city clerk, in snagging $6,750 in state Legacy funds for a city arts center. Now he is after the real prize: a $7 million chunk of the state bonding bill -- also for the arts center in the southeastern Minnesota city. He may then bounce back to the Legacy fund for another $50,000.

This is the new money-hustling maze at the State Capitol, where the Legacy constitutional amendment passed by voters in 2008 is providing hundreds of millions of dollars in fresh revenue for some at a time of shrinking budgets for most others. A lucky few can dip not only into the pot dedicated to the outdoors, clean water, arts and parks and trails initiatives, but may also tap the state's bonding bill for a double dip.

On most days, this is a world that operates below radar and away from the latest headlines. The Legislature is already grappling with a $1.2 billion shortfall that may well result in cuts to health care, police and snowplowing. But in the Land of Dedicated Funds, different rules apply. Here, the Minnesota Sharp-tailed Grouse Society is in line for $1.5 million in Legacy funds. Another $747,000 in Legacy money has tentatively been pledged to restoring the Anoka Sand Plain -- a large patch of sandy soil stretching across north-central Minnesota.

Some projects have become especially adept at combining and leveraging Legacy money with other funds. "We got all these different places that you can go to for this money," said House Minority Leader Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove. "The government shouldn't have five different pots. If it's a park and trail, it shouldn't be in the bonding bill."

But it's happening. The Shingobee Connection Trail, part of a proposed 24-mile trail near Walker, in northern Minnesota, got $175,000 in Legacy funds last month and is in the bonding bill for another $500,000.

Ducks Unlimited? It has been recommended to share $6.5 million in Legacy money to enhance shallow lakes and wetlands. But it also may get $75,000 for shallow lake easements from the lesser-known Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which gets its funds from the state lottery.

On and on the list goes. State parks land acquisition could get more than $2 million from the LCCMR and a similar amount from the House bonding bill. Ditto for the Department of Natural Resources, which is primed to get hundreds of thousands of dollars for native prairies in the bonding bill, $1.75 million from the LCCMR and $1.3 million from Legacy funds.

Peggy Booth, a DNR supervisor, said that funding restrictions can push projects to tap various money pots. Bonding money, for instance, can't be used for prescribed burning of native prairies, she said, but Legacy and lottery money can.

Sometimes, it's as simple as the more you ask, the more you may get. Booth said the DNR's native prairies and scientific and natural areas program originally sought $8 million from the LCCMR. Even though the program was recommended for $1.75 million, the agency also tried its luck with bonding and Legacy money.

Steve Bilben, who leads a task force for Shingobee Trail funding, said legislators discouraged him from expecting the entire $1.4 million the group wanted in this year's bonding bill because it had already received Legacy money. "We could get it finished, if we had the $1.4 million," Bilben said.

Never-ending need

As groups and state agencies line up for Legacy and other money, many are driven by never-ending wish lists.

A Minnesota House research study estimated that, even with regular capital investments and at least $2.4 million a year in Legacy money, the DNR won't catch up on deferred maintenance of trails until 2014. Completing the roughly 1,300 miles of state trails that have been authorized but not finished? That task would run through 2044, requiring at least $73 million in Legacy money and a minimum of $220 million in bonding, the study said.

Legacy money -- provided through a small increase in the state sales tax -- will generate $228 million this year, with $32.5 million designated strictly for parks and trails.

As princely as that sum may sound in hard times, environmentalists measure it against what they believe must be done. "The thing you have to understand is there's an unlimited amount of work to be done out there," said Jon Schneider of Ducks Unlimited, a major conservation group. "We've lost 90 percent of our prairie wetlands."

Schneider said he is not shy about asking for as much as possible, from as many sources as necessary. "[People may ask] 'How come you're asking for six grants, versus two?'" Schneider said. "It's a matter of trying to do as much as we can."

But who is keeping track of who gets how much? Sue Thornton, the LCCMR's director, said the commission tries to keep tabs on whether a group asking for LCCMR money is also rooting around for other public money. She said large projects often piece together money from several public funding sources, and said such a strategy is not only typical but valid. Thornton said her commission will often compare notes with another agency, asking "what proposal did you receive? Are you funding all of it?"

Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, a member of a panel that recommends Legacy money for outdoors projects, said the new reality leads to predictable results -- what he calls a "cafeteria" of money. "The people who are skilled in going after the money and writing grants will get their grants," Hansen said.

Jill Sletten, a well-connected lobbyist for the Chatfield arts center project, agreed. "You've got to go where you can find the money," she said. "There are different pots, you know -- federal money, the Legacy and bonding. If you can't get it somewhere, maybe you can find it in another area."

As the House, Senate and the governor wrestle over this year's bonding bill, Gary Neumann is watching to see whether the Douglas State Trail near Rochester will get the $1.5 million the Senate has proposed or the $413,000 in the House version. Last month the project was awarded $175,000 in Legacy money. "You try and layer your funding sources to make it happen," said Neumann, Rochester's assistant city administrator.

Should the project even get money at a time the state is facing a severe budget crunch? "You're going beyond what you called me for," Neumann said, laughing. "I'm not going to answer that."

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673