Minnesota’s regular legislative session ended May 20. However, because the Legislature was unable to pass all of the bills necessary to set the next two-year state budget, Governor Tim Walz called legislators back a few days later for a one-day special session, which concluded on May 24. Here are some of the legislative outcomes that may impact MESERB members:
Critical projects, programs in the lurch after bonding bill fails to gain traction
When Gov. Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announced the final budget agreement on May 19, they mentioned a $500 million bonding bill. The prospect of a bonding bill created a level of excitement for many members who had critical projects that need a bonding bill to move forward. However, when the Legislature adjourned the special session, it did so without acting on a bonding bill.
Unlike most other budgets bills included in the Walz/Hortman/Gazelka agreement, a bonding bill is not needed to avoid a shutdown of any government agencies. Therefore, the urgency to move forward with a bonding bill was not as strong as with other finance bills. As the clock ticked down on the special session, the hope diminished as no bonding bill was introduced.
With various excuses ranging from a lack of appetite by legislative leaders to a failure to engage the minority party about the bill, we may never know exactly why a bonding bill did not move forward this year. A version of a potential bonding bill was posted to the House legislative website at one point, but it was never formally introduced and the version was removed from the website this week. We are disappointed because the draft version included funding for projects for some members, as well as important priorities such the Public Facilities Authority (PFA) wastewater grant and loan programs.
Legacy bill includes $18M for water infrastructure
Although the failure of a bonding bill is a disappointment, we are pleased that the Legacy bill contained $18 million for the PFA Point Source Implementation Grant (PSIG) Program from the Clean Water Fund. Last summer, the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities (an organization to which several MESERB member cities belong) weighed in with the Clean Water Council about the need for financial assistance for wastewater projects and advocated that a portion of the Clean Water Fund be used for PFA grant programs. The council recommended that $18 million be allocated to the PSIG program and the Legislature adopted this recommendation.
MPCA permit fee increase push fails and other details of the environment bill
In response to budget concerns, two years ago the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) began a push to increase fees on water quality permit holders and appointed a task force to examine the issue. The task force recommended a modest increase, but it was not given the option of recommending a request for more money from the state’s general fund. The MPCA has stated it believes it has the authority to increase fees without legislative action, but this session the MPCA included the request to increase fees in its legislative proposal.
The Senate did not support the fee increase and took steps to prevent the MPCA from acting on its own by including policy language in its omnibus environment bill that would require legislative approval for any permit fee increases. The House did not include the permit fee increase in its omnibus bill, but it also did not include the legislative approval requirement. In the final bill that passed last week, the Legislature did not authorize the MPCA’s requested permit fee increase but also did not take action on the question of whether the MPCA can raise fees without legislative approval. It is too early to tell whether the MPCA will attempt again to increase water permit fees next year or in the near future.
Earlier this year, the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) introduced legislation to establish coordinated watershed management throughout the state and enhance the watershed restoration and protection strategies (WRAPS) program. Among other powers, this legislation would allow the MPCA to submit a watershed management plan developed through the WRAPs program as an alternative to a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The goal of this change is to increase progress on the number of TMDLs adopted throughout the state. A concern with the initial proposal was that a watershed group could adopt a plan that assumed a pollutant load reduction by a municipality without consulting the municipality and that plan would then become a federally enforceable TMDL. The CGMC (as MESERB doesn’t lobby) worked behind the scenes with BWSR and the bill authors to ensure that no plan could be adopted as a TMDL alternate without engaging any affected municipal permit holder.