Minnesota Legislature OKs new oversight for state school trust lands
Dennis Lien, Pioneer Press, April 25, 2012 –
Moments after the Minnesota House overwhelmingly approved a measure changing oversight of state school trust lands, Republicans and Democrats shook hands and exchanged hugs.
On the House floor. At center aisle.
That unusual display of bipartisanship on Wednesday, April 25, reflected years of work by several lawmakers to shift administration of school trust lands from the state Department of Natural Resources. They contended the DNR has not done a good job of generating revenue for schoolchildren from those properties.
The House, and a couple of hours later the Senate, repassed an updated version establishing a Legislative Permanent School Fund Commission and a trust lands director, appointed by the governor, to oversee and administer land given to the state in the mid-19th century. The director and up to five staffers would work with the DNR but would be charged with maximizing revenue from the property, scattered primarily across northern Minnesota.
The House vote was 110-21; the Senate vote, 42-20.
“It’s a very big day, a very big day for the kids of Minnesota,” said the bill’s chief House sponsor, Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, who immediately sought out and congratulated Rep. Denise Dittrich, DFL-Champlin, who had championed similar measures in recent years. She then hugged Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, who has been seeking the change for decades. Others also joined in.
Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, is the chief Senate sponsor.
has had school trust lands since it achieved statehood in 1858, when two sections of land in each township were reserved for the benefit of public school students. Most of it has since been sold off, but more than 2.5 million acres, consisting largely of forest, remain.
Proceeds from those properties go into a permanent school trust fund, with interest and dividends parceled out each year to school districts.
O’Driscoll, Dittrich and Rukavina contend the DNR hasn’t generated as much money from them as it could, and have sought the new arrangement. It remains unclear how much additional money, if any, will be generated.
The bill, however, was not without critics.
Several DFLers said two provisions inserted during conference committee negotiations undermine the package.
They said one of them would eliminate legislative approval of lakeshore sales and the other appears to allow future Legacy and Environmental Trust Fund dollars to be used to buy land already under state control. Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, called those efforts a “money grab.”
Others had different concerns, including administrative expenses tied to the new jobs.
The conference committee report now goes to Gov. Mark Dayton, who sent lawmakers a letter Monday outlining concerns with the legislation, including whether environmental protections on trust land would be weakened.
The governor has not said whether he will sign or veto it.
Dennis Lien can be reached at 651-228-5588. Follow him at twitter.com/DennisLienPP.