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May 23, 2016
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Legislative Session Closes with Mixed Results for Parks & Trails

The 2016 Legislative Session came to a close late Sunday with a flurry of activity as legislators worked to pass bills before the mandatory midnight deadline. While legislators were able to strike deals on a supplemental budget and a tax bill, the two sides couldn’t agree on a transportation bill and failed to pass a bonding bill. For Minnesota’s parks and trails the end result was a mixed bag. We’ve summarized the major pieces of legislation affecting parks and trails below.

BONDING BILL

No bonding bill was passed, which means many important park and trail projects will go unfunded. There is still a possibility Gov. Dayton will call a special sessions to give the two sides another chance to pass a bonding bill, but he has not made that decision yet. We were hopeful that a bill would pass as a deal seemed to be in place late Sunday evening, but ultimately they ran out of time. With just minutes to spare the House hurriedly passed a bonding bill and moments later the Senate passed a similar, but not identical, version of the bill. Before the two chambers could resolve their differences the clock struck midnight, ending any hope for passage of a bonding bill during the regular session.

The bonding bill (HF 622) would have been a mixed bag for parks and trails. On the positive side, the bill would have funded:

  • $26 million for asset preservation projects across the DNR system
  • $11.5 million for state trail development, including:
    • $2.59 million for the Glacial Lakes State Trail near New London
    • $3.3 million for the Heartland State Trail between Detroit Lakes and Frazee
    • $2 million for the Gitchi Gami State Trail near Tofte and Grand Marais
    • $3.6 million for the mountain biking system at Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area
  • $750,000 for a pedestrian and bicycle bridge in Grand Rapids

Disappointingly, however, the bonding bill left out many important projects, including:

  • Renovations at Itasca State Park
  • State Park Campground rehabilitation
  • State Park Prairie restoration
  • Many local trail projects, including the Dakota Rail, Fairbault Northern Links, and Swedish Immigrant
  • Many state trail development projects, including the Casey Jones, Chester Woods, Goodhue Pioneer, Heartland Itasca Spur, Mill Towns, Minnesota Valley, Mississippi Blufflands, and Preston-Harmony
  • Metropolitan Regional Parks and Trails
  • Local park and trail grants

We’ll keep you posted on whether or not Gov. Dayton decides to call a special session.

SUPPLEMENTAL BUDGET

We’re pleased to report that key park and trail provisions were included in the supplemental budget (HF 2749). The bill includes $5.1 million of additional funding state parks and trails, including $2.8 million from the General Fund. The majority of these funds will be used to avoid staffing cutbacks, and represent the fifth consecutive year of spending increases on state parks and trails after funding reached an all-time low in fiscal year 2013. A portion of the the additional funds, approximately $1.2 million, will be spent on strategic land acquisition within state park boundaries.

The supplemental budget bill has been sent to the governor’s office for signature.

ENVIRONMENT & NATURAL RESOURCES TRUST FUND (LCCMR)

The final piece of major legislation affecting Minnesota’s parks and trails was the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund appropriations bill (SF 2963). Throughout the session the House and Senate disagreed on several of the provisions recommended by the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). In its final form, the bill partially funded all the park and trail projects recommended by LCCMR. Among the projects receiving funds are:

  • $1.3 million for state park and trail “enhancements” (LCCMR recommended $2.4 million for state park and trail “acquisition” — Gov. Dayton veto)
  • $1.2 million for development of the Mesabi Regional Trail
  • $679,000 for a recreational trail in Tower
  • $600,000 for a recreation trail in Fergus Falls
  • $400,000 for Douglas County Regional Park (LCCMR did not recommend project — Gov. Dayton veto)

*May 31, 2016 Update: Gov. Dayton signed SF 2963 into law, but vetoed several projects – including $1.3 million for state park and trail enhancements and $400,000 for Douglas County Regional Park – because they were not included on the LCCMR’s list of recommended projects. The veto is especially unfortunate for state parks and trails, which were included in the original LCCMR recommendation but had the language changed from “acquisition” to “enhancements” during the legislative process.

THANK YOU!

A big and heartfelt thank you to all our members who spent the last few months following the news, calling and meeting with legislators, and driving to St. Paul to sit in and testify before legislative committees. Even though many of your projects didn’t receive funding this year, your work was not in vain. Thank you for everything you do for your local communities. Parks & Trails Council couldn’t do our work without you.