Capitol Notebook: Legacy Spending Delayed Until Budget Agreement

Funds from a bill that would spend nearly $450 million on outdoors, clean water, culture and art programs could not be spent until after the state’s two-year budget passes under an amendment added Sunday evening.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, proposed delaying the dispersal of so-called legacy funds, which was approved by a unanimous voice vote. It came about largely because of concerns that Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders are at a stalemate over how to close the gap on a $5 billion budget deficit with time winding down in the legislative session.

“We being stewards of these funds have to be very careful everything else is in order before (the funds) go out,” said Ingebrigtsen, who chairs the Senate environment committee and co-chairs the legacy funding conference committee.

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, is on the legacy conference committee. She did not object to Ingebrigtsen’s proposal.

She thinks waiting to disperse funds will better prevent lawmakers from using legacy funds for projects that should otherwise be funded with state general fund tax dollars, a requirement of the constitutional amendment that passed in 2008 allocating additional funds from a sales tax increase to these projects.

The conference committee passed the entire legacy bill by a unanimous voice vote. It still must pass the House and Senate before the Legislature adjourns at midnight.

The legacy bill will spend nearly $180 million on clean water projects, invest $105 million in arts and heritage, put $87 million toward outdoors projects and add $78 million to improving parks and trails over the next two years

“We have a good bill and I look forward to it eventually becoming law,” said conferee Rep. Paul Torkelson, R-Nelson Township.

The legacy conference committee met several hours Sunday, with Chairman Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, one of the final budget negotiating committees still working in the 2011 legislative session.

The House and Senate held rare Sunday sessions to deal with dozens of bills that do not spend money.

Democrats protest

One thing can be said about Bradlee Dean’s prayer that opened Friday’s House session: The firestorm around it does not seem to die down.

Dean, dressed in a running outfit, delivered a prayer that challenged President Barack Obama’s profession to be a Christian. He also dismissed people who do not believe in Jesus.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, apologized for allowing Dean to offer the prayer, and he restarted the Friday House session with a prayer by the regular House chaplain.

The official record of House activity contains no mention of Dean’s prayer.

“There is no history of the shame that man caused this body Friday, May 20, 2011,” Rep. Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, said Sunday as he protested the omission.

Paymar and other Democrats protested leaving a Dean reference out of the Journal of the House.

The Dean incident has been one of the major discussion topics around the Capitol since Friday morning.

Concussion protection

The House voted 125-4 to require coaches and others associated with youth athletics to receive more training about concussions.

Senators earlier passed the measure 54-10, so it heads to Gov. Mark Dayton for his consideration.

The bill by Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, requires coaches, officials, young athletes and parents to receive information about concussions, which are becoming a major sports issue. It also requires a coach or official to remove a young athlete from play if he or she shows signs of a concussion.

Excelsior retained

Iron Range lawmakers took their dispute over the proposed Excelsior power plant public during Sunday House debate.

The House voted 76-54 to allow the project to continue, over loud opposition by Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township. He said the public has paid $41 million since 2001 on what first was proposed as a coal-fired power plant and now is proposed to be run natural gas.

“These developers have not created one full-time job for anyone other than a lawyer, a lobbyist, a consultant and many, many, many professional meeting attenders,” Anzelc said. “Not one carpenter, not one laborer, not one technician, not one pipefitter”

But Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, retorted that the project needs a chance.

“If it has got a chance to move ahead, let it move ahead,” he said.

Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake said the amendment to remove permission to build the plant “is threatening to take away the last chance for this project.”

The failed proposal was offered by Rep. Andrew Falk, DFL-Murdock, because Excelsior “has never lived up to any of the claims that have been made.”

Coal plants OK’d

Gov. Mark Dayton must decide whether he will allow a North Dakota power plant to provide electricity to Minnesota.

The House Sunday night approved 75-54 a bill that would allow Minnesota power companies to buy power from out-of-state that is produced by coal and would allow coal-fired power plants to be built in Minnesota.

The major impact would be that Minnesota’s Great River Energy could buy electricity for its power cooperatives from a Spirtwood, N.D. power plant.

Rep. Bill Hilty, DFL-Finlayson, opposed the bill because, he said, all coal pollutes the air.

“This is just the same old let’s-burn-more-coal bill,” Hilty said.

Since the Senate passed the bill earlier, it now heads to Dayton for his signature or veto.

Without the bill, North Dakota may sue Minnesota for violating its federal constitutional commerce rights.

Twin Cities freelance writer Andrew Tellijohn contributed to this report