Dennis Anderson
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How clever Kurt Daudt and Paul Gazelka are, the Legislature's head honchos.

Daudt, the Republican House speaker, and Gazelka, the Republican Senate majority leader, waited until the final hours of the recent legislative session to abscond with money from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF).

They succeeded. So far.

Recall that Minnesota voters created the state lottery in 1988 by constitutional amendment with the intent of dedicating a significant portion of proceeds to protect and enhance the environment.

Key to lottery money allocation is the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR), which reviews hundreds of proposals each year before submitting a finalist list to the Legislature to be funded by the ENRTF.

For the session just ended, commission members — 17 in all: five from the House, five from the Senate and seven citizens — had $46 million to allot and proposed funding for 67 projects.

Typically, these appropriations glide through the Legislature. And for good reason. The LCCMR process — the seven citizens are volunteers — is deliberative and time consuming. No one would submit willingly to this work knowing in the end legislators would dramatically alter their recommendations.

But not only that ...

In an unprecedented move and contrary to what Minnesota voters approved when they voted for the lottery, legislators this session cooked up a plan for the ENRTF to pay obligations on bonds the state will issue to fund Republicans' pet lottery-funded projects.

Until now, lottery money has funded environment projects on a pay-as-you-go basis, which leaves the LCCMR flexible as varying threats and needs arise. Example: Most invasive species that today threaten Minnesota waters weren't on anyone's radar in 1988.

Now, if the Legislature gets away with its bonding scheme, the ENRTF will be obligated for years ahead to pay for projects approved this year.

What's more, by reducing funding for projects from amounts proposed by the LCCMR and wiping out other projects entirely, Republicans made a banana-republic-like laughingstock of the appropriation process.

Example: LCCMR members again this funding cycle approved money for the University of Minnesota and the DNR to cooperatively produce a geologic atlas. This work is critical to the state's long-term management of surface and subsurface waters, because it identifies locations and sizes of aquifers and the lands and waters above them — information that city managers, well drillers, developers, farmers and many others — need.

But legislators killed that worthy idea and instead voted to bond lottery money (rather than bonding from the more appropriate general fund) to landfill reclamation, among other projects and programs.

"When voters created the lottery, it was ... not as a replacement for funding of basic state services like sewers and landfills,'' said Steve Morse of the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Added Nancy Gibson, a 12-year LCCMR member and a past chairwoman, "This move confirms that all of our constitutionally dedicated funds are at risk. It sets a very poor precedent.''

Now part of an overall bonding bill on Gov. Mark Dayton's desk, the lottery-funded environment projects — those favored by the LCCMR, as well as ones gerrymandered by Daudt, Gazelka, et al — await the governor's approval or rejection, in whole or part.

Stay tuned.

Dennis Anderson