As the Legislature adjourned the 2015 session last night, we are still left wondering what the end result of this session will be. While some business is finished, other key items were left pending and Governor Dayton indicated today that he will call a special session as he plans to veto the Education Bill, and possibly other bills once he’s had an opportunity to review them.
Here’s some highlights for parks and trails:
The Omnibus Environment and Natural Resources Finance Bill that was passed by both chambers and is on its way to the governor would be a major boost for state parks and trails should the governor sign it.
The bill includes a 25 percent increase in general funds to operate our parks and trails from $39.6 million in FY 2014-2015 to $49.4 million FY 2016-2017. This would represent the second consecutive double-digit increase in general fund support. That’s enough to get us back on par with the amount of money parks and trails had to work with prior to the passage of the Legacy Amendment, which momentarily seemed to be supplanting rather than supplementing the General Fund.
In what is hopefully a temporary disappointment, the Legislature failed to pass a bill that would appropriate Legacy Amendment Funds. While the House did pass a bill, in the end-of-session crunch, the Senate ran out of time and was not able to take it up. However, now that it’s clear the governor will call a special session, it’s likely the Legacy bill will be addressed. Assuming the final bill resembles the one just passed by the House, it would fulfill Parks & Trails Council’s two legislative priorities for Legacy Funds: 1) abide by the recommendation arrived at by representatives from the three park systems with funds spread out with 40% to State System, 40% to Metro System and 20% to Greater Minnesota System; and 2) The new commission representing Greater Minnesota Parks and Trails would receive funds to continue its efforts to establish a more formal infrastructure.
While this is not a traditional bonding session, there are many needs waiting to be addressed in our state parks’ and trails’ aging infrastructure and we were advocating for significant investment. Unfortunately, there was no bonding bill passed this session.
Governor Dayton has three days to review the bills. He already said he will veto the Education Bill and possibly others. He said he won’t call a special session until he has an agreement on the scope and content of the bills to be addressed during the session.
We were pleased to learn that parks and trails have bipartisan support and are keeping our fingers crossed that the State Parks and Trails Operating budget will be signed by the governor. We will provide a more detailed update in the days ahead. Thanks to all of our members for their work in ensuring that Parks and Trails are a public priority.