Governor can yet get tough on LCMR
Dennis Anderson, Star Tribune
June 24, 2005 ANDY0624
The thinking at the Capitol is that if the governor and the DFL can solve their budget issues, developing spending targets, the spat between the two over direction and control of the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) will similarly fall into line.
Or maybe not.
As matters stand, the bill that would fund the Department of Natural Resources and the Pollution Control Agency, as well as keep state parks open beyond the ever-looming June 30 state shutdown date, is stalled, if not dead, in what once was called a conference committee, but now, and euphemistically, if not cynically, is labeled a legislative "working group."
In its most recent meeting, this conference committee (let's be realistic), or at least its Senate DFL representatives, refused even to consider a compromise offered by Rep. Dennis Ozment, R-Rosemount, that would have split authority of the LCMR and its more than $30 million biennial budget between the Legislature and the citizenry.
Whether Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who wants total control of the LCMR given to a citizens committee, would have bought the Ozment plan is unknown. But chances are he would have considered it. The DFL didn't even do that.
Perhaps as a result, indications are the governor has lost his sense of humor over the LCMR impasse. Meaning now he might not accept anything short of what he wants, namely the LCMR to be run as it was intended when voters authorized it: focused on improving the state's waters and lands, with active involvement of the citizenry. This would differ from the status quo, wherein 20 legislators do pretty good work -- considering they have no statewide conservation strategy -- while making sure their pet projects get funded.
Memo to Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson and other DFLers:
Have you noticed no one is on your side in the LCMR fight? That at your committee hearing recently when testimony was taken, many major conservation and environmental groups were represented -- and no one testified supporting your position?
How did the DFL, the party that traditionally has led the way in this state regarding conservation and the environment (e.g., Sen. Hubert Humphrey and the Wilderness Act of 1964; Gov. Wendell Anderson and the Reserve Mining slugfest) so obviously, and convincingly, cede its front-running position to the Republicans?
Meeting this week, the coalition of more than 35 environment and conservation groups that organized the April 2 Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water Rally at the Capitol voted to hold another rally at the Capitol next year.
"We put 5,000 people on the Capitol mall, and a lot of legislators said they got our message," said rally organizer Dave Zentner of Duluth. "But obviously that's not the case."
The question now: Will the governor hold out on LCMR even if the budget and other issues are settled? The politics are on his side; he gains only favor among hunters, anglers and other conservationists the longer he supports their position on reforming the resources commission.
Yet if the budget is settled, the pressure to cave and get the state back to work will be overwhelming.
The view here -- and I grant that my paycheck, unlike those of some 15,000 state employees, isn't on the line -- is when Johnson et al come to their senses, either before July 1 or after, and seek a deal on the budget, that Pawlenty leave them swinging until they agree to LCMR reform.
The governor, after all, has come this far, pushing an issue that to some is arcane at best but to state conservationists represents what could be a turning point in the way the state's woods, waters and fields are managed.
The DFL has three options.
It can suddenly see the wisdom of the governor's approach on the LCMR and capitulate while declaring victory.
Or ... it could, as some in both parties have suggested, agree to pass in this special session a constitutional amendment proposal to be on the 2006 ballot that would guarantee funding for conservation. The governor supports such an amendment, and Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, has said he will pass it in the House before adjourning.
Were that to occur, state conservation and environment groups might soften their demand for LCMR reform, however minimally, however reluctantly.
Or ... the DFL could dig in its heels still more deeply, refusing to budge on LCMR or the constitutional amendment, and face -- what? -- 10,000 increasingly angry voters on the Capitol mall in 2006.
An election year.
Dennis Anderson is at email@example.com.