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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published April 14 2010

Minnesota lawmakers look into outdoors funding

ST. PAUL – Seventy-three outdoors projects ranging from producing geologic atlases to restoring wetlands to getting urban children outside would get funds under bills Minnesota senators considered Tuesday.

The two measures, from citizen-legislator committee recommendations, would spend $85 million. Similar bills are making their way through the House process as well.

A $26 million bill funding recommendations from the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources tentatively passed the Senate. Sen. Ellen Anderson, DFL-St. Paul, who authored both bills, tabled discussion on the second one, which would fund $59 million in Lessard-Sams Outdoors Heritage Council projects, to further discuss a proposed amendment.

Lessard-Sams funds come from a sales tax increase voters approved in 2008. The legislative-citizen commission projects would be funded by lottery money set aside for outdoors uses.

Included in one of the bills is $4.2 million to buy more state park and other land, which brought strong opposition from Sen. Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook.

“I don’t think this is the year to be buying land,” Bakk said. “I think this is the year we should be creating jobs.”

Bakk suggested spending the funds on creating 84 jobs instead of buying land that would take more state money to maintain.

The Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council recommends spending $59 million on things such as restoring prairies, buying land for recreation, adding land to wildlife areas, repairing shorelines, protecting forests and restoring wildlife habitat.

Agree to meet

Legislative leaders and Gov. Tim Pawlenty agreed further meetings are needed to pass education reforms that could lead to up to $175 million more federal funds.

But an hourlong, closed-door Tuesday meeting apparently produced no agreements about what reforms should pass.

Sen. LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer and Rep. Mindy Greiling of Roseville, legislative education finance leaders, said they will host an informal meeting early next week with education committee members, Pawlenty’s education commissioner and representatives of education groups such as the Education Minnesota teachers’ union.

Stumpf and other legislative leaders said they hope to pass an education reform bill that would not only improve education but could lead to $60 million to $175 million more federal funds in the next four years.

Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.