Battle over Legacy dollars heating up againPublished 8:59am Monday, August 13, 2012
ST. CLOUD — The battle between Greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities over state funding for parks and trails is heating up again.
At stake is about $40 million annually from Minnesota Legacy Amendment funds that are divided among Twin Cities parks, state parks and regional parks in Greater Minnesota.
Earlier this year, 10 Twin Cities agencies passed a resolution calling the current split unfair. In response, cities and counties in the rest of Minnesota have passed their own resolutions calling for a greater share.
It’s likely to be a contentious issue that spills into next year’s legislative session.
“Everybody knows the pie is only a certain size,” said Chuck Wocken, Stearns County’s parks director.
In 2008, Minnesota voters approved the Legacy Amendment, a sales tax increase for the outdoors, environment and arts.
In the first round of Legacy funding in 2009, 43 percent went to the Twin Cities, 43 percent went to the Department of Natural Resources for state parks and 14 percent went to a statewide grants program, for which both greater Minnesota and the Twin Cities could apply.
In the second round, the Twin Cities metro still received 43 percent, while the DNR received 37 percent and the rest of the state 20 percent. Twin Cities projects could no longer apply for the outstate portion.
Republican state Sen. John Pederson of St. Cloud pushed last session to eliminate a $500,000 cap on greater Minnesota projects and a requirement that local cities and counties match the funds. Those requirements didn’t apply to the seven-county Twin Cities metro area.
“It’s just an issue where we need to be treated fairly,” he said. “There is an abundance of parks for metro residents to use on a daily basis … There’s a lot of catch-up that needs to be done in greater Minnesota.”
But earlier this year, 10 Twin Cities parks agencies passed a resolution calling the division unfair. In response, members of the Greater Minnesota Regional Parks and Trails Coalition have passed a resolution of their own, calling for a greater share of the Legacy funds.
“We are doing our best to make the argument that Central Minnesota has been in a funding deficit for decades,” said Dan Larson, the coalition’s lobbyist. The Legacy Amendment “has given local governments a horizon to shoot for,” he said.
The coalition is represented on the Parks and Trails Legacy Funding Advisory Committee, which will make a recommendation this fall on how the funds should be split to DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr.
One of the arguments that Twin Cities agencies have made is that Greater Minnesota doesn’t have a well-developed park system to distribute the funds.
Boe Carlson, associate superintendent for the Three Rivers Park District in the Twin Cities, said one of the committee’s goals is to gather better information on regional parks in Greater Minnesota, including where they are and who is using them.
“Our position has been, ‘Let’s get some better data.’ Let’s get some better understanding of what those visitation numbers are, because then we can make a better apples-to-apples comparison,” Carlson said.
Outstate Minnesota parks advocates argue that the comparisons aren’t fair. Although the Twin Cities metro might generate more sales tax, many of the commodities — such as timber, crops and iron ore — are produced outside of the metro area and then transported to the metro. They also point out that many Twin Cities residents travel to greater Minnesota to visit parks.