Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
In 2024, one of Minnesota’s most popular constitutional amendments is scheduled toexpire. Not the amendment to abolish the office of State Treasurer, or the amendment to allow creation of a Court of Appeals, but the highly visible amendment that dedicates state lottery dollars to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF).
The ENRTF is a uniquely Minnesotan idea, putting money from our state lottery proceeds toward research and restoration projects for our Great Outdoors. The projects it supports are as varied as the state’s natural landscape. Using ENRTF dollars, agencies and organizations have conducted vital climate research, restored fish and wildlife habitat, created new trails and access to nature, and helped protect drinking water resources. ENRTF projects are visible around the state, and many local economies have benefitted from these investments.
Part of the reason that the ENRTF has been so successful and sustainable is that it was created by and for the people of Minnesota. In 1990, Minnesotans voted in a 3-1 landslide for the constitutional amendment that dedicated 40% of proceeds from the state lottery “for the public purpose of protection, conservation, preservation, and enhancement of the state’s air, water, land, fish, wildlife, and other natural resources.” The original constitutional dedication of those lottery dollars only extended until the year 2001, but in 1998, Minnesotans voted – again, in a landslide – to continue dedicating 40% of the proceeds until 2024.
These broad margins point to just how much Minnesotans care about our natural spaces, as well as how hard supporters have worked for it. MEP and our members and allies have made great efforts to maintain and build on the Trust Fund.
We’ve also had to make unprecedented efforts to protect it from improper and unsustainable raids. In 2018, the Minnesota Legislature passed a bill that appropriated ENRTF money for wastewater infrastructure through appropriation bonds, which are more costly to the state than ordinary, general-obligation bonds.
MEP supports investments in wastewater systems, but the ENRTF was never intended to be used for that kind of infrastructure spending – that’s what the state’s general fund dollars are for. Opening the door to such a raid could have put the Trust Fund’s future on shaky ground, and left many worthy projects unfunded.
Working with our partners, MEP joined in a lawsuit for the first time in our history, seeking to stop the state from issuing the bonds and to reverse the raid on the Trust Fund. Thankfully, we were successful – the raid was reversed and the ENRTF has continued doing its good work.
Today, the ENRTF faces the prospect of losing its constitutionally guaranteed share of the Minnesota Lottery dollars. Without this constitutional protection, a future legislature could reduce or end the dedication of lottery proceeds to the ENRTF, regardless of how much Minnesotans support the Trust Fund.
The good news is that key Legislators have introduced a bill to let Minnesotans vote once again on an amendment extending the constitutional guarantee of lottery dollars to the ENRTF. Even better, the bill would expand the ENRTF’s share of lottery proceeds to 50%, as well as including unclaimed winnings. It would also help ensure that the Legislature can’t raid the Trust Fund for wastewater projects in the future. And it would help make the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR) that recommends ENRTF spending more representative of the state.
We believe, and polling shows, that if an ENRTF amendment is placed on the ballot, the vast majority of Minnesota voters will support it. Now, we just need the Legislature to do the right, popular thing, and pass a bill to let us vote for more years and more support for our Trust Fund our communities and our Great Outdoors.
How you can help: Use our action system to tell your legislators you support putting the ENRTF renewal amendment on the ballot.
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