It’s that time of year again! The days are getting longer and helping us eke out daytime temps above zero (and even above freezing!), the snow is looking grungy, and the legislative session is in full swing … kind of.
Like the normal run up to any major league sports season, there may be a somewhat bumpy start in the COVID era, but we can still anticipate the predictable rah-rah events meant to get fans and players psyched up, and for teams to set some stretch goals that will carry them through the season’s ups and downs.
With the legislature, the tournament is a little different every other year. This year is the second of the biennium so it’s a bonding year, when state bonds, grants and loans are made to fund infrastructure projects around the state. Minnesota government and programs are still running along on the budget set last year.
The House announced a bold, one-billion dollar climate plan and the governor’s office came out later the same inning with plans to spend the state surplus on investments in state assets, climate mitigation for cities, and even return some money to the taxpayers. They both have plans to distribute federal funds to replace lead pipes. All the while Republicans are urging fiscal restraint. We even heard one Republican say that a budget surplus is harder than a deficit because of the fracas that the “extra” money causes—with the proposals on the table, he says the money has already been spent three times over.
Our approach to the session
So how is Freshwater warming up? Well, we’re already a few months into training for the session because once the frenzy of bills dropping and committee hearings begins, it’s hard to introduce new ideas. This is especially true in a redistricting year when shifting boundaries have some legislators finding themselves in an entirely new district and needing to campaign. Everyone will be up for re-election and some will have to meet a lot of new constituents. A change in fan base can be a major distraction.
All that means we’ve been working out for a while—meeting with agency staff, boards, association leaders, and legislators. We’ve been refining the recommendations coming out of our recent reports and honing our objectives into goals achievable during a session filled with distractions.
We have been successful in the past, thanks in a large part to the wisdom and coaching of Conservation Strategies. With their help, we’ve had bills passed, funds allocated, and new programs established to protect water in each of the last three sessions. We’re batting 1000 and don’t want to break our streak. We also don’t have a deep policy bench, so we target our efforts to stay within our capacity and areas of expertise.
What are we doing?
⚾ Pitching a new bill based on a recommendation that came out of Banking Groundwater for the completion of an Aquifer Properties data base;
⚾ Following up on the roll out of the new water storage program that we helped pass last session with a new bill for additional implementation money;
⚾ Throwing the closing pitch on a long-term goal of ours by moving SWCD funding to a more stable source while also protecting the Clean Water Fund for its intended uses;
⚾ Coaching on investments in water infrastructure in the face of a changing climate. Not just loans, but grants and community technical support for low-income communities where household budgets are already stretched by high taxes in proportion to income, and cities just can’t afford to borrow any more or hire more staff;
⚾ Closing on any other initiatives that we have supported in the past sessions, including smart salting legislation.
While we’re trying to minimize our own distractions and filter out the chatter, we will respond if our voice can help good opportunities make it to home.
The undercurrent to all of this work is the knowledge that Minnesota is facing a changing climate and an uncertain water future as a result. We will be on deck, closely following all climate-related bills regarding water infrastructure to see where we might offer some third-base coaching.
Stay tuned for updates. We stay in the game until the ninth inning—and into extra innings, if needed.