In today’s edition of the Outdoor News, reporter Joe Albert interviews Governor Tim Pawlenty and asks a series of questions regarding our state’s natural resources. When asked about Minnesota’s 30-year low in funding for the environment, the Governor provided a response that I think needs more exploring.
Joe Albert asked the Governor:
In terms of natural resources spending, some would say it has fallen to a 30-year low under your watch. Is that fair?
Some of the Governor’s response is:
You have to be careful of people who are putting out data and studies that have, shall we say, a bias. I think it is fair to say that natural resources as well as almost every other area of state government took a bit of a haircut in 2003, when we had the historic, epic budget crisis…
So, I think 2003 probably distorts the numbers. It wouldn’t be true to say we spend less on natural resources now than we did 30 years ago.
I apparently would be someone who the Governor would judge to be biased and I admit, I think we should be spending more on the environment. I don’t receive any of those dollars directly, but I think Minnesota has a fantastic natural environment and that we should all be working to ensure it is well protected for future generations. I will also tell you that we were spending a greater percentage of our state tax dollars on protecting Minnesota’s Great Outdoors 30 years ago then we are today.
In fiscal year 1976, which actually began in 1975, 1.97% of Minnesota’s direct General Fund allocation was spent through our environmental agencies. For this fiscal year, which began on July 1, we are slated to spend roughly 1.19%. Thanks to some of the supplemental funding provided this year, the last fiscal year actually marks the low point in the past 30 years with an estimated 1.15%. The only other times we’ve been close to this low of a percentage was for a bit of time in the 80s and during the Governor’s first budget cycle, all of which were at least 1.3%. The highpoint in funding came in 2001 at 2.25%. To the Governor’s point, we do spend more dollars today then we did 30 year ago, but relative to how large the state general fund budget is, we are definitely down.
What about fees though? It is true, a huge portion of environmental funding has been shifted from the tax base to fees. Below is a graph that will give you some relative ideas of how spending over the last five years has gone down (and was not a one-year event as the Governor implied). An important note on the graph though – it doesn’t include the supplemental budget passed this last May, which has added a little upturn on the end. The graph was prepared prior to the conclusion of the last session. This last session a bit more money was spent, particularly for Clean Water Legacy. But I am going to blame this being a Friday for the fact that I haven’t done the math needed to update the FY2007 numbers on this chart.
Overall, when you add fees and tax dollars, we are spending roughly the same amount of money as we were just before Governor Pawlenty took office. However, that money doesn’t buy as much as it did then and as you’ll note on the chart below, state government spending certainly has not been remaining flat. The summary: we in Minnesota need to rededicate ourselves to protecting our Great Outdoors.
If you’d like more info behind many of these numbers, check out some of the reports offered by the Minnesota League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.