A lot of unsound policy was slipped into Minnesota's Ag & Enviroment Omnibus Budget bill, but on Friday, representative Rick Hansen (DFL-South Saint Paul) and Jean Wagenius (DFL-Minneapolis) pointed out a fiscal problem buried in it.
The testimony was part of informational hearings on budget and bonding bills conducted jointly by the Minnesota Senate Finance Committee and the House Ways and Means Committee.
While the new bill was an improvement over the one Governor Dayton vetoed, Hansen said, in that it will pay back the Closed Landfill Fund with November revenue projections, the new language still leaves the $8.1 million raid on the Metro Landfill Contingency Action Trust (MLCAT) account unrepaid.
Funded by tipping fees charged to metropolitan area residents, the MLCAT account has been raided twice before during times of budget shortfalls and never repaid. Hansen pointed out that the landfills in Dakota County will eventually close, but the sites are forever, and the fund should be treated no differently than the larger Closed Landfill Fund (CLF). (The Dakota County landfills are not eligible for CLF money).
Here's his statement:
It's a reasonable request.
But the real zinger comes later, when Wagenius points out the hypocrisy of the Coalition Of Republicans and Rangers raiding a fund paid for by Twin Cities residents for the solution to a problem to metro-specific landfills.
Speaking with the media late last year, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) had attributed hypothetical raids on the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilation Board (IRRRB) funds on fellow Democrats. Bluestem reviewed the history of actual attempts to raid the IRRRB funds in our post, Range Trust? Baffling Senate Majority Leader Bakk blames IRRRB fund threats on Democrats.
In fact, the raids or threatened raids were proposed by Republican leaders. Thus, we're shocked--shocked!--to find Range Democrats teaming up with Republicans to raid a fund that serves a valuable regional purpose (especially in a time of surplus).
The MLCAT account is roughly analogous to the IRRRB funds. The money in the IRRRB funds is paid by mining companies instead of property taxes and used in theory to bolster local communities. The money in the MLCAT account is paid by residents as part of the cost of disposing of garbage, in order to make sure that there's money available for pay for costs of closed landfills. If the closed landfills begin to leak into the soil and water, clean-up costs could be a burden; the funds were set up to pay for costs related to closed landfills.
Representative Jean Wagenius Took the lead in the House as the legislature grappled with this issue many years ago; the Senate lead was Steve Morse, now an environmental leader.
On Friday, Wagenius drove home the analogy between raiding regional funds:
. . . The metro landfill fund, paid for by metro folks,. . .you have no business taking this money . . .not only do you take money that you shouldn't have taken, and you don't pay it back, but now folks in the metro will have to pay again to clean up but now it's different, because folks who created the garbage won't pay, but the younger generation. So we have an intergenerational shift going on here.It's so unfair, and you had no business taking the money in the first place.
I'm appalled by this. If we'd gone into a fund say on the Iron Range and taken money out, Senator Tomassoni, you'd be the first to scream. . .
Here's Youtube clip of her remarks (despite the same screencap as the first clip, this sequence comes later in the hearing; full video here):
After Wagenius speaks, McNamara defends the theft of the funds because they're not doing anything in the reserve account. He seems unclear about the need to keep the fund intact so that future generations don't pay for the consequences of today's garbage.
Should MLCAT be the kitty to raid for environmental funds?
Wagenius mentions a letter from Dakota County about the funds. Here's a copy of a letter from Dakota County to one of its state senators; the letter was included in Hansen's May 27, 2015 newsletter to his constituents. We're not sure if it's the same letter that Wagenius mentions, but it does address the questions she's concerned about in her testimony.
In the letter, both the statewide CLF and MLCAT are mentioned. The issue with repaying the MCLF is addressed in the new bill, but not that related to the metro-only (paid by metro tipping fees).
The proposed raid is the third for this fund. Should it serve as the kitty when revenues are short, as in the past--and curiously now, when the state is running a $2 billion surplus? We don't think so, any more than IRRRB funds should be funneled away from the Range (the IRRRB might be more prudent in its spending, but that's another issue).
Here's Dakota County's answer, which notes that the MCLF can't be spent until 2020; one imagines a similar logic is operating in not drawing down the MLCAT account.
Photo: Rep. Rick Hansen giving his testimony to Friday's hearing, via Facebook.
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