Archived Story

Editorial: Parks in Greater Minn. need more from Legacy

Published 9:13am Wednesday, July 11, 2012

A battle again is brewing between the Twin Cities metro area and the rest of outstate Minnesota, this time over how to divvy up the nearly $40 million annually in the Parks and Trails Legacy Fund.

First a little background. When Minnesotans passed the Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment, they approved increasing the state sales tax by 3/8 of 1 percent for 25 years to provide additional funds for outdoor preservation, water quality, arts and culture, and parks and trails.

Of that amount, 33 percent goes to Clean Water, 33 percent to Outdoor Heritage, 20 percent to Arts & Culture and 14 percent for Parks and Trails.

This current biennium doled out $78 million for Parks and Trails with 42 percent going to the metro’s regional parks, 38 percent to the Department of Natural Resources and 20 percent to greater Minnesota. This was better than the previous biennium, which gave 43 percent to metro parks, 43 to the DNR and 14 percent to greater Minnesota.

The Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Coalition believes this is still inequitable and wants a better division of funds to help out the outstate parks. The North Mankato City Council agreed and passed a resolution to that effect last week.

Carver County and nine other local governments with metro regional parks also think the funding is unfair and want an even bigger slice of the pie. “This wasn’t a fund just created for outstate parks, for gosh sakes,” said Carver Commissioner Tom Workman to the Star Tribune. “We’ve got to take a stand here.”

Their argument: 60 percent of the sales tax money comes from the seven-county metro area, but it gets only about 40 percent for its parks and trails. And they argue that far more people use the metro regional parks.

However, the Greater Minnesota Coalition points to regional communities such as Bemidji, Rochester, Duluth and others that have strong systems and the whole of outstate parks receive less than half of what the seven-county metro systems receive. The coalition, for instance, received $7.1 million for 2012 but had an inventory of projects that would cost more than $30 million.

Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, and chairman of the House Legacy Funding Division, said this debate has been the most contentious facing his committee. He is not swayed by the argument the metro area got shortchanged, pointing out in that same Star Tribune report that “a lot of people who use (outstate) parks come from the metropolitan area, especially state parks where nearly half of the visitors come from the Twin Cities.”

This metro-centric attitude has been debilitating for many in the outstate. We have seen this in road funding and now with parks funding, which has stymied such projects as North Mankato’s Benson Park.

Our legislators should join with the North Mankato City Council and seek greater parity in funding for outstate regional parks and bring a stronger outstate voice of optimism and hope to overcome the “Eeyore” syndrome besetting the Twin Cities metro area.

— Mankato Free Press, July 7