Senate environmental committee adopts budget that includes money to fight zebra musselsMembers of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources passed their omnibus budget bill for 2012-2013 on Tuesday. The bill passed out of committee and will be sent to the Senate Finance Committee for further review and inclusion in the final budget bill.
Members of the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources passed their omnibus budget bill for 2012-2013 on Tuesday.
The bill passed out of committee and will be sent to the Senate Finance Committee for further review and inclusion in the final budget bill.
Senate Republicans set a self-imposed deadline of March 25 for passage of all individual committee budget bills.The Senate Environment Committee released budget appropriations last week, held committee hearings, gathered public testimony and passed the budget bill on time.
Committee Chairman Bill Ingebrigtsen (R-Alexandria) stated after the bill’s passage, “We arrived at a final budget solution today that meets the targets put forward earlier this month. We focused on and allocated resources to priorities: DNR enforcement, firefighting, investigating and combating aquatic invasive species [such as zebra mussels] and chronic wasting disease, the Coon Rapids Dam Commission and fully funding Red River flood damage grants and mitigation. Additionally, we reduced bureaucratic overhead and sought privatization to generate additional savings.
“Overall, this budget emphasizes our priorities while spending within the framework of our existing revenue,” Ingebrigtsen added.
The committee passed net general fund spending of approximately $209 million. The areas that compose the overall environment and natural resources budget include:
• Pollution Control Agency (PCA).
• Minnesota Zoo.
• Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
• Metropolitan Council-Regional Parks.
• Minnesota Conservation Corps.
• Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR).
The general fund level of spending passed for 2012-2013 is approximately 15 percent less than projected automatic spending growth.
DNR Red River flood damages grants and BWSR flood mitigation and management support are fully funded.
Conversely, Governor Mark Dayton’s budget proposal reduces funding to the Red River flood damages grants by more than 50 percent, and eliminates all funding to BWSR grants to local governments for flood mitigation and management support.
In the Senate budget bill, additional BWSR grants to local government that assist farming, agriculture and the environment were funding priorities.
The Senate Environment Committee reduced funding to the Minnesota Conservation Corps completely, as the program was privatized in 2003 and not intended to experience subsequent years of growth in government funding.
The committee also found savings of $3 million through the privatization of select state nurseries.
The Department of Natural Resources Parks and Trails Division receives funding within $4 million of Governor Dayton’s proposal.
Critics contended that this difference would result in the closure of 26 of the 67 state parks. Focusing on priorities and cost-efficiency, the committee passed an amendment to halt funding of a single, new Lake Vermillion park and instead allocated the savings to the parks and trails division, thus preventing the parks from closing.
The final budget bill mitigates disproportionate cuts by implementing reductions of automatic spending by nearly 15 percent in each of the main budget areas, Ingebrigtsen said.
The budget focuses on and funds priorities, greatly reduces administrative overhead, does not use dedicated funds to supplant general fund dollars, and finds savings through privatization, the senator added.
“We’ve done our homework, met with advocacy groups and policy leaders, heard testimony and arrived at a budget solution that reflects the means of our economy,” said Ingebrigtsen.
The Senate Finance Committee will hear the bill on Friday, March 25.