Despite coming into the year with a state surplus of nearly $2 billion and the now six-year old Legacy Amendment that voters passed to ensure a stable source of funding for conservation concerns, the Minnesota Legislature is about to take another big step backwards in protecting not only the state’s environment, but also its taxpayers.
On the top line, the currently proposed spending levels offered by the DFL-controlled Senate would see the next state budget slash $34.5 million dollars from environmental and natural resources sections of the budget.
A big chunk of that comes in the form of taking money from a fund created to maintain 109 closed landfills around the state that require ongoing upkeep and maintenance to prevent contamination of local watersheds. The state takes responsibility of the landfills so that local municipalities and taxpayers are not left on the hook for what can be massive cleanup costs should the closed landfills begin to leak. But following these raids, the state will have roughly half of the money it will need to cover the expected liabilities. So, should a leak occur, as recently did in Washington County, there is a real possibility that taxpayers who have already seen their tax dollars dedicated to the account once, could be asked to pay up a second time to cover the difference.
The House seems equally interested in raiding dedicated landfill accounts. In addition to following the Senate’s lead in taking money from the statewide fund, they also appear destined to completely drain the Metro Landfill Contingency Action Trust Fund. This fund was created with a dedicated surcharge on metro area solid waste bills to deal with the seven metro area landfills. This is one of the more egregious takings by the legislature, as the surcharge was collected for this very specific purpose, and yet now seems likely to be used to fund other state spending initiatives.
The House Tax bill also includes a provision to divert funds dedicated by the Legacy Amendment to pay property taxes on natural resource land. Both the Attorney General and the Legislative Auditor have questioned the constitutionality of this use of dedicated funds.
There is only so much money to go around, and every year, tough decisions have to be made. But in a year of surplus, and a state where the voters chose to tax themselves to make sure that the state’s legacy of natural resources protection was maintained, the legislature sure appears to be losing its way.