By Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership – @mattjdoll
Last week, the Minnesota Senate Environment and Natural Resources Finance committee unveiled an omnibus budget bill that would dramatically cut general state support for our natural resources by 25%. These cuts, representing a funding decrease of $90 million from the last two year budget, would harm the ability of agencies like the Department of Natural Resources, the Pollution Control Agency, and the Board of Water and Soil Resources to tackle environmental threats to Minnesota’s health and livelihoods.
At a moment when Minnesota’s public health and natural resources face challenges from all sides, this bill would leave Minnesota underequipped to handle these challenges, and stall progress being made to protect our lands and waters.
Minnesota’s environmental protections need further investments, not rollbacks
Beyond ordinary operations of state parks and other programs, Minnesota’s environmental agencies are facing an array of challenges:
- 40% of waters in the state don’t meet health standards for human use, and an increasing number of Minnesotans are contending with nitrate contamination in their home’s water. The PCA and other departments are working to clean up and protect these waters.
- Chronic wasting disease is rapidly threatening Minnesota’s deer population, requiring a rapid response from the DNR.
- Minnesota’s landscape is being altered by climate change, threatening communities with flooding and ecological disruption.
This bill would not only reduce the funding available to address these needs, it also includes a number of harmful policy provisions, such as requiring unanimous consent of all 87 Minnesota counties before the state can update water quality standards to protect human health. (For more information on these cuts and policies, see this factsheet.)
Another unsustainable raid
Some Senators have argued that the general fund cuts wouldn’t actually disrupt agency operations because they could shift dollars from fees and rely on other sources, such as the constitutionally-dedicated Legacy Amendment Funds and the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund. Relying on fees is a volatile solution at best – MPCA Commissioner Laura Bishop wrote about states where such reliance is the norm: “It is not a healthy situation for businesses, the public, nor for the environment and human health.” And the Legacy Funds and Trust Fund were always intended to operate in addition to baseline funding, never to fill in the gaps due to cutbacks.
Testifying in the Senate Committee on April 10, Darrell Gerber of the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy said: “This bill treads back into the territory of unconstitutional use of the Environmental and Natural Resources Trust Fund.” This same type of raid last session was the impetus for a lawsuit by MEP and our partners. That raid was fixed by legislative action this year, but the Senate looks to be setting up a case of déjà vu. (For further analysis of this new raid, check out Dennis Anderson’s latest column in the Star Tribune.)
Filling the gaps from general fund cuts for our environment isn’t merely a misuse of funds – it threatens the sustainability of the funds themselves. MEP Executive Director Steve Morse testified that “This bill is like raiding the piggy bank for day-to-day expenses with no plan to refill it.”
A bill between two houses
This proposal is leagues apart from the two environmental budget proposals from Governor Walz and the House of Representatives, both of which would maintain general fund dollars for our natural resources, parks, and environmental infrastructure to tackle our pressing challenges. With dire threats impacting our water, pollinators, habitat, and climate, Minnesota needs greater investment and smarter policies for our future over the next two years, not cuts, rollbacks, and raids.
We ask that Senators reconsider the cuts in this environmental budget bill and remove its harmful policy provisions. And we urge Governor Walz and leaders in the House of Representatives to stand up for our community health and Great Outdoors when they negotiate the final budget this year. Minnesotans deserve progress on making our state cleaner and healthier – with a budget that reflects our values and helps us stand firm against the challenges we all face.