It took a special session of the Minnesota Legislature to keep Minnesota’ s financial affairs in order, but a new two-year $52 billion state budget was passed in late June and went into effect on July 1. Despite a tumultuous session, a government shutdown was avoided, state parks remained open and most of the policy items P&TC worked to secure as part of our legislative agenda fared well.
Increased budget and no onerous fee increase for State Parks and Trails
When the 2021 session began, policymakers were expecting a large budget deficit as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And in response to anticipated deficits, Gov. Tim Walz and the DNR proposed increasing state park entrance fees to balance the state park budget. Thanks to federal support and a relatively strong economic recovery, however, the state ultimately had a significant budget surplus. This change in fortune allowed lawmakers to agree to a P&TC-backed proposal to increase General Fund support for parks and trails to offset the need to increase park fees yet again. The final budget included a $2 million General Fund increase over the biennium for DNR Parks and Trails.
State trail rehabilitation included in bonding bill, but stalled
Early in the 2021 session, Rep. Leon Lille (DFL-N. St. Paul) and Sen. Carrie Ruud (R-Breezy Point) used recommendations from P&TC’s 2018-2019 State of the Trails Report to author a $4.8 million bonding bill (HF697/SF698) to address state trail rehabilitation needs. Thanks to our sustained efforts and meetings with key legislative leaders, the House Capital Investment proposal included the trail rehabilitation funding in their omnibus bonding bill. Unfortunately, the Senate did not assemble a bonding bill in 2021 and thus no final agreement could be reached. It’s possible – though probably unlikely – that the Legislature will make an attempt at a bonding bill when they return for a brief Special Session in September for some other business. If no bonding bill emerges later this year, the Legislature will begin work on a bonding bill when they return in January 2022.
Parks & Trails Legacy Fund benefits state, metro and Greater Minnesota
Nearly $111 million in Parks and Trails Legacy Funds were appropriated to fund projects throughout Minnesota through the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment. The Legislature preserved the historic 40%-40%-20% split of these funds balancing the needs of State Parks and Trails, Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails, and Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails.
Important projects funded per LCCMR recommendations
Because partisan squabbling in 2020 stopped the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) recommendations from being funded, two separate LCCMR bills were funded during the 2021 session resulting in more than $133 million dollars being appropriated to fund 174 special environment and natural resource projects. Included in this funding is $6.06 million for high priority land acquisition for state parks and trails; $4.65 million to fund competitive matching grants for local parks, trail connections, and natural and scenic areas; $5.26 million for state trail development; $3.25 million for Metropolitan Regional Parks System land acquisition; and numerous other local or regional projects including $190,000 for Jackson County to create a single-track mountain bike trail in Belmont County Park.
With vigilance, State Parks remain quiet and natural
Over the past decade there have been several attempts by legislators to change the state law prohibiting All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) from state parks. P&TC has led the charge against these efforts and was prepared to do so again in 2021. While no bills advanced in 2021 we know there are currently efforts underway by the ATV lobby to run an ATV trail through Bear Head Lake State Park despite the fact that ATVs already have a designated route around the south side of the park. We expect this will be a major issue for us in 2022.
If you would like to get involved in P&TC’s legislative efforts to keep state parks quiet and natural, please email Brett at firstname.lastname@example.org.