Capitol Update for April 13, 2007

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Here is this week’s update from the capitol by John Tuma:

We Minnesotans take pride in our ability to survive in this rugged North Woods and have created larger than life myths to help reinforce that pride.  Of course the greatest of those mythical legends is Paul Bunyan and his ever loyal companion Babe the Blue Ox.  One of my favorite stories from my childhood is that the big blue Babe worked so hard moving logs that the footprints he left behind created our 10,000 lakes.  Of course now I know that old Babe and his resource depleting partner had nothing to do with the creation of our pristine lakes, but there is a Minnesota legend by the name of Babe that is very familiar with our lakes and rivers.  That would be the fishing legend Babe Winkelman.

Babe has built a successful business around fishing and has been on the air for over 25 years with his “Good Fishing” show.  As a young Minnesota lad I would watch his show each week and apply his techniques with great success.  Let’s be honest, those of us who loved to fish envied the thought of a life built around fishing and spending endless hours, as opposed to occasional weekends, fishing the waters of this great state. 

During the early debates three years ago around the Clean Water Legacy some of the misinformed used with effectiveness a few misquoted promotions from Babe that the water quality in Minnesota lakes has never been better.  At the time those of us who hung out in the Capitol lobbies shrugged off the attempts to misinform legislators and never spent any time to see where the legendary Babe really stood on the issue.  This week we unexpectedly found out with great interest where Babe is on the issue of the Clean Water Legacy and dedicated funding.

This week in his column published widely throughout the upper Midwest Babe made clear he doesn’t think the lakes are in good shape and it’s time to get something done.  “Water pollution in our lakes, rivers, ponds and streams is a rampant, ongoing and well-documented by state and federal authorities.”  Speaking as a Minnesotan he stated “despite our affinity for water and the vast economic benefits that come with it (fishing is good business, in Minnesota and throughout the country), my home waters are, well, troubled”.

Babe went on to quote the MEP Executive Director Steve Morse regarding the over 2,250 contaminated lakes and rivers identified in Minnesota despite 86% of the lake and rivers still being untested.  Babe concluded that our state needs a “Marshall Plan” for improving our troubled waters “but such a grand idea would take considerable political will and, above all, leadership.  And a whole lot of … money.  Until we resolve as a society to pony up the dough, our troubled waters will stay as such.  It’s that simple.”  I could not have said it better myself, Babe.  You are still a legend to this weekend fishing warrior.

I tell you that story because it will take strong grassroots leadership in the final six weeks of the legislative session to successfully pass Minnesota’s “Marshall Plan” to clean up our water.  That “Marshall Plan” calls for a $100 million a year investment in the Clean Water Legacy in this biennium’s budget.  It also requires long-term constitutionally dedicated funding of $100 million a year for conservation and $100 million a year dedicated for the Clean Water Legacy from the state’s sales tax.  At present the budget proposals from the House and Senate have only about one quarter of the needed annual investment for the Clean Water Legacy.  The Senate has passed its funding bills off the floor and the House will pass their Omnibus bill that has the environment finance provisions this coming Tuesday.  As the legislature goes through the final twists and turns at the end of session we will push for this amount to grow, but we know this will be a challenging hunt when we’re competing against such large budget predators as education, transportation and health care who are also roaming the Capitol halls.

The proposals for dedicated funding have passed two committees in the Senate and no committees in the House.  The Senate bill (SF6) sits in its toughest committee, the Senate Tax Committee.  The chair of the committee, Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook), is not a fan of dedicated funds, but has promised to give the bill hearing.  We’re counting on the legendary legislative maneuvering skills of the chief author, Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, to work his magic on moving it through this most difficult of Senate challenges.  Over in the house with only about six weeks of the legislative session and eight to ten committees left to get through there will need to be some larger-than-life legislative maneuvering on the part of the House author, House Majority Leader Rep. Tony Sertich (DFL – Chisholm).  Babe said it best that it will definitely “take political will and, above all, leadership” to pass the dedicated funding bill this session.

A bit of good news from the Capitol on the Global Warming Mitigation Act.  A couple weeks ago it looked like we had hit a major roadblock in the Senate Energy, Utilities, Technology and Communications Committee.  We were told the bill supported by Clean Energy Minnesota (SF192 authored by Sen. Ellen Anderson) would not get a hearing and that the committee chair, Sen. Yvonne Prettner-Solon (DFL-Duluth), would instead move forward her own omnibus energy bill.  When shown the initial proposed provisions on global warming for the new bill (SF145) we were extremely disappointed. 

To Sen. Prettner-Solon’s credit the final proposal that was passed out of committee with her support this Thursday had significantly improved.  Sen. Prettner-Solon’s proposal clearly identified a long-range target of an 80% reduction of carbon pollution by 2050.  The committee also pushed forward stronger language moving the state on a path to a regional cap and trade.  This legislation is still not in a form acceptable to the Clean Energy Minnesota coalition, but we’re happy that the Senate is moving a bill forward that contains an improved global warming reduction plan.  There is still a lot of legislative session ahead of us and we hope the Senate proposal will improve each additional step down the road closer to the provision passed by the House committee under the leadership of chair Bill Hilty and author Maria Ruud. 

Note from Jon: You can use this link to see Babe Winkelman’s commentary.

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