Environmental Trust Fund restored!

by Trevor Russell

We are thrilled that the legislature and Gov. Tim Walz took action to restore the environment fund and voters' trust.  (Image by McGhiever via Wikipedia.)

On March 5, Gov. Tim Walz signed bipartisan legislation to fix last year’s controversial use of Minnesota’s voter-approved Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund.

This legislation is a win for taxpayers and our environment, and restoring the fund was a major priority for FMR this session. Here’s what happened.

Depleting our environment fund

In the final hours of the 2018 legislative session, lawmakers approved a state borrowing or “bonding" bill that included $98 million in projects to be paid for from the state’s voter-approved Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund (ENRTF).

In addition to being unnecessarily expensive, this allocation violated the will of Minnesota voters.

Made up of lottery money specially dedicated to the environment, the fund had been established by a statewide constitutional amendment. In its 30-year existence, it had never been used to pay off state bonds as the 2018 Legislature was attempting. Minnesota voters had not authorized trust fund money for bond interest, and the projects that legislators sought to fund in this fashion last year are normally paid for with general obligation bonds.

Our lawsuit

As reported in the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press and MPR, amongst other news outlets, FMR, along with seven other conservation groups, was forced to file a lawsuit to stop the raid in hopes that the legislature would fund the proposed projects with traditional state bonds — honoring voters' intentions and lowering interest rates.

FMR was joined as a plaintiff by our friends at Clean Water Action, Fresh Energy, Friends of Minnesota Scientific and Natural Areas, Izaak Walton League – Minnesota Division, Minnesota Environmental Partnership, Minnesota Native Plant Society, and the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Alliance, with Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy representing our coalition.

A bipartisan fix, and lawsuit dropped

With strong bipartisan support in both chambers, the legislature passed HF80 to fully fund all the 2018 proposed projects with traditional state general obligation bonds. (See the Star Tribune for additional details.) Advancing this legislation was a top priority for FMR and our allies this session, and its passage is a big win for environmental funding in Minnesota. In response, our coalition was happy to file a notice to dismiss (which was served to the State of Minnesota on March 11) and end the lawsuit. 

Urban or rural, no matter your race or cultural heritage, we all need clean water and a healthy environment to live. When Minnesotans came together to create this fund, they basically said, ‘Regardless of our differences, our environment and clean water is worth protecting.’ We’re excited to glimpse some of that spirit returning to the Capitol!

We thank Gov. Tim Walz and the leaders and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle for working quickly and fairly to restore the fund and the trust of the voters who created it. Not to mention all the FMR River Guardians who contacted their lawmakers and used their voice to help restore the fund!

Next up: Water Action Day

The best way to build upon this victory, if your daytime schedule is flexible, is to join us for Water Action Day, April 10, 2019, a day of public action and advocacy to let lawmakers know we care about our water.

Can't make it? Sign up to be a River Guardian! We send five to ten emails a year as important river issues arise and make it easy to take action. River Guardians are also invited to special events, including happy hours, to learn more about important legislative and metro river corridor issues.

Stay up to date

Through the session, you can stay up-to-date on key environment and water quality issues on our Legislative Updates page. Check back for news on these priorities and more.

You can also follow us on social media (Facebook and Twitter) and sign up for our bimonthly e-newsletter, Mississippi Messages.