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DNR: Proposed Budget Cuts May Close Parks, Lay Off Workers

By Pat Kessler, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- Tempers flared at the Minnesota State Capitol Tuesday over funding for programs on the environment and natural resources.

Those environmental spending packages passed both legislative houses, clearing the Minnesota Senate 37-28 and the Minnesota House 72-57.
But Minnesota's Department of Natural Resources said budget cuts in the bills could affect everyone who visits a state park this summer.

The bill cuts $65 million from environment and natural resources programs, but adds money for emergency priorities including fighting Asian Carp and chronic wasting disease.

But DNR officials warned the budget cuts are so deep, it may be forced to close up to 26 state parks and lay off workers.
That brought jeers and catcalls from Republicans, who said the department is using political scare tactics.

"If you cut us like you're cutting us, we gotta close 20 percent of the parks," said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, mocking the DNR.

McNamara called park closings an overreaction to what he said were relatively minimal -- but necessary -- budget cuts.

"Oh my goodness gracious, we have to close 20 percent of the parks? You're cutting us 2 percent! We can't handle that! We're state government," continued McNamara.

The Minnesota House added a special order, directing the DNR not to close a single park, causing Democrats to accuse Republicans of denying the consequences of the cuts they make.

"Republicans!" called out Rep. Paul Thissen, the DFL Minority Leader. "You continue to deny reality and think that by waving a magic wand and just saying 'It shall be so,' that it shall be so."

House Republicans did remove one item too sensitive even for them: a plan to harvest expensive and highly-sought black walnut trees from two state parks.

The author of the bill argued the DNR is leaving state money on the forest floor.

"The DNR has allowed these resources, these valuable resources, these assets owned by the state of Minnesota, to rot on the stump," said Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

According to a fiscal analysis provided by the House Republican Majority, below are the major parts of the bill:

  • Total Funding: $228 million
  • Total Reductions: $65.396 million
  • Provides $25 million in LCCMR/Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund projects
  • Re-allocates some funds to higher priority needs, including $5 million for aquatic invasive and $1.2 million for chronic wasting disease
  • No fee or tax increases
  • Minimizes reductions to Minnesota Zoo (10 percent); Commerce (7.5 percent) and PUC (0 percent)
  • Directs MPCA to promulgate rules for sulfate standards; changes the current standard (which was set in the 1940s) from 10 mlg liter to 50 mlg until new standard is in effect; and provides permit holders with a reasonable period of time to comply with new standards
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