Legislature makes promising start on preserving environmental trust fund, supporting communities

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By Matt Doll – Minnesota Environmental Partnership

This week, the Minnesota Legislature began its discussions of bills that would protect the viability of Minnesota’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and finance infrastructure investments responsibly, after last year’s legislative raid threatened to deplete the fund for unconstitutional purposes. Though the bills will continue to be amended and finalized, this represents a major step in the right direction toward ensuring the voter-created trust fund keeps restoring and improving Minnesota’s environment for future generations.

The background

The Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was created by a 1988 constitutional amendment passed by Minnesota voters. Drawing from the state lottery’s funds, it contributes to many worthy projects

The reason this legislative solution is needed was that last year, the Legislature passed a bonding bill that used Trust Fund dollars to pay interest on expensive appropriation bonds for infrastructure projects, which are normally funded by ordinary, low-cost, general-obligation bonds. These projects are essential, but the Environmental Trust Fund was never meant to pay for them, and the expensive appropriation bonds would have drained the fund.

Because this would have set a harmful precedent and threatened the long-term viability of the Trust Fund, MEP and several allied organizations filed suit against the raid. Our goal was not to prevent the infrastructure projects from being completed, but to make sure the Legislature went back to the table this year to restore the Trust Fund and the faith of the voters and pay for infrastructure responsibly.

The solution

Fortunately, Legislators are already working to right this raid. On January 24, the Minnesota House Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division heard testimony on a bipartisan bill, HF 233, that would repeal the trust fund raid and pay for the water and waste infrastructure projects it targeted with ordinary bonds. The Senate is also considering legislation to prohibit money in the Trust Fund for paying debt service on bonds as the raid intended.

We’re glad to see Legislators working on an idea that we can all agree on: we don’t have to choose between the continued success of our state’s Environmental Trust Fund and the water infrastructure upgrades on which our communities rely. We can have both, and they’ll help us make Minnesota a cleaner and healthier place to live.

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