Here now a few items to keep in mind come November when you duck into a voting booth to retain or, alternatively, toss out your Minnesota House and Senate representatives.
As background, recall that Minnesota’s state parks have long been cherished by residents here, so much so that during the most recent state government shutdown — in 2011, for 20 days — the loss of access to 67 state parks and nine recreation areas was considered by many Minnesotans the closure’s greatest inconvenience.
Also angering the citizenry at the time was the inability of residents and nonresidents alike to purchase hunting and fishing licenses.
Now, in 2016, state parks are open, and hunting and fishing licenses are readily available.
Yet in many ways state government is shut down.
As evidence, consider the Legislature’s most recent do-nothing session, followed by the increasing likelihood that a special session won’t be held to pass legislation important to most, if not all, Minnesotans.
This includes the governor’s bonding bill, which contains funding to rebuild and maintain your state parks and other DNR-administered facilities.
A few facts:
• The DNR owns 2,700 buildings, part of $2.8 billion in assets administered by the agency on behalf of Minnesotans. These also include roads, trails, boat launches, culverts and dams.
• The DNR estimates $334 million in repair and maintenance funds is required to upgrade and sustain these belongings. This would include repairing 204 DNR buildings that are run down and addressing another 533 structures considered to be in poor condition.
• The DNR submitted to the governor’s office last year for inclusion in his bonding proposal a request for $80 million. Dayton’s staff, in turn, trimmed the request to $33 million and added another $6 million, approximately, for campground renovation, trail building and fish hatchery maintenance. Total in the governor’s bonding bill for DNR building maintenance and related expenses: About $40 million.
“Had we gotten that amount it would have been the largest allocation we’d ever received for that purpose,” DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr said Thursday. “It was far less than the $130 million each year for 10 years that we believed was necessary to fully repair and maintain our buildings. But it would have been a good start.”
Instead — blame whomever you want, but recall again that all legislators are up for re-election this fall — Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt continue to be at odds over the governor’s bonding bill and other proposed legislation, preventing a special session.
If the two sides remain divided, the sheet of quarter-inch plywood that separates the women’s bathroom from an office desk in a northern Minnesota DNR fisheries office will remain in place — not the best room divider, perhaps, but the cheapest.
Additionally, landowners, hunters, anglers and others seeking help from DNR staff in Bemidji will have to continue to search nine different buildings in five different locations to find the information they seek.
“We’ve been looking for years for a new building,” DNR regional director Greg Nelson said. “There was some money in the governor’s bonding bill to explore our office needs. Without a bonding bill, that effort will grind to a halt.”
And what about Itasca, the state park system’s crown jewel that celebrates its 125th anniversary this year?
“The septic system is ancient,” Nelson said. “It serves the park’s buildings and campground. But it’s deteriorated to the point where we can’t really repair it anymore. The governor had $3 million in his bonding bill to replace it. That work, for now, will have to wait.”
Money that would help restore Minnesota’s grasslands and farmland wildlife, including ducks, pheasants and songbirds, also is included in the governor’s stalled bonding plan.
This includes $30 million in Reinvest In Minnesota funds that would be eligible for a federal match in excess of five times that amount. The money could help farmers and other landowners comply with the state’s new buffer law, beginning next year.
For now, that’s not happening. Nothing is.
State government is shut down.
Dennis Anderson • 612-673-4424