By Carrie Jennings, research and policy director
Not many of you choose to follow the legislative session as closely as we do, so you may want some analogies to help understand where we find ourselves now. Since it is baseball season and that is a lot more fun (I follow the New Prague Orioles and Miesville Mudhens, mostly for their picturesque ball fields) we thought we’d use sports metaphors.
We are on third base, every muscle tensed, waiting to make the run to home for the win, and headed into extra innings.
As the legislature adjourned the regular session (nine innings), they reached broad agreement with Gov. Tim Walz for overall spending. The mutually agreed upon number was $30 million over the base budget (woo-hoo, fans are doing the wave). While short of the governor’s proposal ($50 million over base), this is a very positive step forward and was helped in no small way by the infusion of federal COVID-relief dollars.
However, the details on what will be funded still require more negotiation. Conference committees that met over the last two weeks will hopefully continue to meet as informal working groups before a special session is called (extra innings). We’re kind of getting used to all of our games going into extra innings these days, sigh.
Freshwater sent letters again today to the House and Senate leadership reminding them of the items that we support. (I am not sure if we can call this a mound visit since we are not really the coach, but we do try to be succinct and judicious with our comments to the pitchers).
- Creating a water storage program with a focus on the Minnesota Basin. This had bipartisan support last year but no budget agreement was reached. We have even broader support this year because it is clear that this can address the excess river flow that leads to erosion and impacts to water quality and infrastructure. Compensating landowners to hold water back at critical times through a variety of approaches makes sense.
- Funding projects recommended by the Legislative Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources that help the state reach environmental goals. Projects recommended last year were not funded; if we have another gap in spending, not only will the continuity of critical research be interrupted, the institutions themselves may falter as talent leaves the state. (Our best players will be become free agents!)
- Keeping with the funding recommendations of the Clean Water Council. Supporting soil and water conservation districts (SWCDs) with Clean Water Fund (CWF) dollars is not in keeping with those recommendations. If used as a short-term solution, the money should be paid back from the general fund.
- Identifying reliable and sufficient funding for SWCDs because they play an essential role in protecting and restoring Minnesota’s waters. Their work predated the Clean Water Land and Legacy amendment and will continue long after the CWF sunsets in 2034
The state’s current two-year budget ends June 30. This is when the lights go off in the park (this time we are being literal because state parks would have to close when July 1 rolls around and there is no budget agreement). Failure to reach an agreement after months of regular legislative session without passing a two-year budget would be as sad as calling the game with the bases loaded. Again. That’s how we ended last season. Boo.
Heck, it might even make you lose your enthusiasm for baseball altogether. But we at Freshwater are perpetual fans, always hoping that next season our team will make it all the way to league champs. So count on us to stay in the stands until the final pitch is thrown and stay tuned for the post-game report.