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Lawmakers look at fees to ease cuts on outdoors programs

ST. PAUL -- Higher fees keep could keep spending on outdoors programs from deeper funding cuts.

Even with millions of dollars in fee increases, some budgets may shrink rapidly, Minnesota legislators say.

For instance, state tax money headed to the Pollution Control Agency would shrink by 19 percent under a funding plan senators ap-proved Th-ursday 49-15. And the Department of Natural Resources would get 5 percent less state funding.

To help compensate, senators approved increasing fees $5 million, slightly less than Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants.

The House early Thursday approved a bill 85-46 increasing fees close to $9 million, according to House Minority Leader Marty Seifert's figuring. Fees would rise even more in future years, he added.

"It is full of fees," the Marshall Republican complained.

Like other spending bills, the House and Senate versions of environment and energy funding measures now head to conference committees to work out differences.

Once a compromise is worked out, with Pawlenty administration input, a tweaked spending bill heads to the governor.

Complicating matters in the environment and energy areas -- including the Department of Natural Resources, Pollution Control Agency and Commerce Department -- is the fact that many of the programs are funded by non-state tax money, such as from the federal government, that comes with limitations on how it can be spent.

Among items being considered in one bill or both bills:

- Reducing forestry spending $11 million because state timber harvesting revenues are falling.

- Spending more than $1 million to determine how many sewage treatment systems are failing, a major pollution problem.

- Appropriating $200,000 to help students understand the causes of Red River flooding.

- Spending $15 million to continue assessing water quality across Minnesota.

- Providing more than $7 million to remove leaking underground storage tanks.

- Chipping in more than $500,000 to help continue building ring dikes around farms in the Red River Valley.

- Reducing by 6 percent the Department of Natural Resources enforcement budget.

- Cutting the governor's request for the Como and Duluth zoos from $320,000 to $270,000.

- Requiring non-Minnesotans pay a $20 fee to use state trails.

- Adding protections for children from toxic chemicals used in products.

- Spending $200 million of federal economic stimulus money for weatherizing homes, making public buildings more energy efficient and promoting renewable energy.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.