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Citizens' chance to participate threatened
The Senate sees the value of having hunters and anglers participate in distributing habitat funds. The House, it turns out, sees that as work reserved for legislators.

Last update: April 10, 2008 - 9:33 PM ... page=2&c=y

Is the Legislature trying to shut out hunters and anglers over control of $91 million tied to a constitutional amendment proposal that will be on the ballot in November? If approved, the proposal would add 3/8 of 1 percent to the state sales tax to benefit fish and wildlife habitat, clean water, parks and trails and cultural heritage.

The full three-eighths of 1 percent would yield about $273 million annually to the state. The topic here today is the one-third --$91 million -- that would directly benefit fish and wildlife.

For about 10 years, hunters and anglers have pressed the Legislature to place the amendment idea on the ballot so Minnesotans could vote up or down whether they wanted to fund one last chance for the state to save itself from itself.

Everyone knows the story: Wetlands are no more, lakes and rivers are polluted, aquifers are being depleted and forests fragmented. Also, the state's grasslands have gone the way of the buggy whip, thanks in no small part to the corn-based ethanol boondoggle the government seems so intent on continuing.

Were it not for the insistence of hunters and anglers that our lands and waters be presided over with more care, many of the state's legislators still would be ignoring the need for a course reversal.

Now some legislators are resisting an equally important proposal. Correctly, hunters and anglers have asked for joint advisory authority with the Legislature over of the $91 million to ensure the money is spent as intended.

Thanks to Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, and Senate Majority Leader Larry Pogemiller, DFL-Minneapolis, and Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, among others, the Senate already has approved a bill establishing a citizens-legislative council to oversee the hunting and fishing habitat funds.

The House is another matter. Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake -- whose district contains fish and wildlife country as good as any in the state -- wouldn't give the council bill a hearing in his committee, even though the measure was sponsored by Assistant Majority Leader Frank Moe, DFL-Bemidji.

Others in the House also have stymied progress of a council bill, some arguing that public policy is better served if legislators alone decide where and how to appropriate the fish and wildlife funds.

Which is hokum. The Legislature's legacy of conservation stewardship historically is one of a large, disparate group being dragged kicking and screaming as it resists doing the right thing. Less so willing conservation partners than obstacles, most legislators are governed primarily by a twofold concern: control of money, and control of a currency they value still more, power.

In its effort to retain sole control over the $91 million in fish and wildlife habitat money, the House seeks to compel the citizenry to return to the Capitol year after year to beg legislators to judiciously appropriate money for ducks and pheasants, wetlands and forests.

Yet if the past is prologue, many legislators will instead often use the $91 million as trade bait, leveraging the power attending its appropriation for something they want in return.

It won't wash. For generations in Minnesota, residents haves been largely locked out of the natural-resource-distribution process, their collective nose pressed against the glass wall that separates them from the corridors of power that decide how and when our lands and waters will be utilized.

This has been no accident. Money always has trumped conservation in Minnesota, a matrix ensured by the consolidation of resource control in the hands of a few -- the Legislature -- so it can trade land and water dispensation for political and other favors

Make no mistake, that's what's being attempted now in the Legislature, a body that, fortunately, has members who truly view their terms as public service. Among these is Moe, also House Majority Leader Tony Sertich, DFL-Chisholm, and House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher. These three among others in the House, including Dill and Rep. Rick Hansen, DFL-South St. Paul, will have to figure out a way to ensure the House follows the Senate and establishes a citizens-legislative commission to oversee distribution of the $91 million.

Dedicated funding? Important. Dedicated spending? Critical. Want to help? Go online to Use the site to send a message to your legislator. Better yet, find your legislator's phone number on the site and call him or her. Voice your support for a citizens-legislative council to oversee fish and wildlife habitat money from the proposed constitutional amendment.

Dennis Anderson • [email protected]
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