The budgeting process for the state’s next biennium (July 2013 – June 2015) got into full swing yesterday as Gov. Mark Dayton released his budget proposal this week that shows he recognizes the importance of our parks and trails, as he has increased the general fund appropriation by $4.5 million over last biennium. Such an increase is an important step in the right direction, especially with the knowledge that the governor is working to fix a $1 billion deficit in the state’s overall budget.
Nonetheless, the governor’s budget does not go far enough to make up for previous cuts that are taking a toll on an aging system with increased public demand. Even with this increase, staff levels at parks and trails would be cut. Minnesota’s State Parks and Trails needs an increase of at least $10 million from last biennium to care for our world-class system. Such an investment would restore the operating shortfall that the DNR has identified, and support the new parks and trails, like Lake Vermilion State Park and Brown’s Creek State Trail, that we have proudly added to our system in the last few years.
“We can’t go another two years shortchanging the system that drives our tourism economy and provides so many health, recreation and economic benefits to so many people throughout our state,” explains Brett Feldman, executive director for Parks & Trails Council. The exercise provided by parks and trails are an important part of the solution to the health problems of our state. And the top tourism attractions in the state are our parks and trails. People from all over flock to State Parks and Trails throughout Minnesota; they visit places and communities that would otherwise be passed over and forgotten, if not for the parks and trails.
Now that the governor’s budget is out, the Legislature will review the numbers and begin drafting bills to modify the appropriations. By April 19, the legislative committees will decide on the major appropriations bills. “We look forward to working with the members of the House and Senate environment committees to ensure our state parks and trails have enough funds to thrive,” says Brett Feldman.
The governor has also appropriated the Parks and Trails Legacy Funds (funds created through the 2009 Legacy Amendment) in his budget. His appropriation allocates the Legacy Funds between the three park systems in Minnesota: a) State, B) Metropolitan, C) Greater Minnesota. After contentious processes in the past, the Legislature requested that a 9-member work group, consisting of members appointed by the leaders of the three park systems, come up with a consensus recommendation for how to allocate funds among the three systems. Gov. Dayton followed this consensus recommendation with allocations of 40 percent to the State system, 40 percent to the Metropolitan system, and 20 percent to the Greater Minnesota system. The Parks & Trails Council supports the consensus approach to arriving at a decision for this allocation.