Increased funding for water, wildlife, and natural areas, as well as increased funding for transit, came close again this year, but failed to make it through.
On dedicated funding, the conference committee wrapped up at about 10:30 p.m. Their final package had 33 percent dedicated to Clean Water Legacy programs, 33 percent for wildlife and habitat, 19.75 percent for arts, and 14.25 percent for parks. However, the conference committee report did not receive a vote before the legislature adjourned until February 12, 2008. They can take up the report then, but advocates are going to have to ask themselves if it is worth it given the loss of almost 8 months of campaigning that would be very valuable in educating voters.
I’ve been thinking about who might end up being blamed for this heartbreaking end (is it really better to have loved and lost, then to have never had a conference committee?). Just between you and me, I have to say though that I think most everyone can share in the blame, so I’m not really blaming anyone. The DFL chose to have two of their leaders carry the bills, which helped greatly in getting the bill quickly through committees, but also meant that they had greater responsibilities when it came time to finish the budgets. They could have also prioritized the bill a couple of months ago. It sounds like the Republicans resorted to outright shouting to cause delays during the closing of the session. Who knows, had they been civil, perhaps there would have been time to get the bill passed. In the end, the result is the same, the legislature continues to fall short of the resources necessary to protect and restore Minnesota’s environment.
Transit and transportation funding went through a different, but equally dramatic path. There was a late attempt to override the Governor’s recent veto of the transportation funding bill by the House (Senate override was considered more of a sure thing, but the House is required to act first on such things I believe). By the sounds of it, the House was three or four votes short needed for the override, but a few people changed their votes once it was obvious it was going to fail so the official vote puts them at seven votes short. The bill had included a half cent increase in the sales tax for the metro area, which would have shaved a decade off of the Met Council’s transit plan for 2030. More information on the transit plan and what’s needed to make it happen by 2020 can be found at Transit for Livable Communities. It sounds like the transportation bill that was passed is business as usual (i.e. not championing transit nor cutting congestion).