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What does election mean for outdoors?

WILLMAR -- What will this year's legislative election mean for the outdoors? It could mean the approval of dedicated funding for the outdoors, and possibly increased funding for cleaning up our public waters. Area legislators told the West Centra...

WILLMAR -- What will this year's legislative election mean for the outdoors?

It could mean the approval of dedicated funding for the outdoors, and possibly increased funding for cleaning up our public waters.

Area legislators told the West Central Tribune that they expect these two issues to surface early in the 2007 session. The legislators -- both Republican and DFL -- also expressed optimism that years of contentious debate on these issues will give way to real progress.

They also expect to hear debate about climate change and action on renewable fuels. They predict that some type of legislation will gain approval calling for greater use of renewable energy sources.

One of the first issues to charge out of the chute will be renewed debate over dedicated funding for the outdoors.

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The debate will almost certainly pick up on where things were left last session, according to Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar. There was a split between the House and Senate over whether a dedicated 3/16 of one percent sales tax should come on top of the state's 6.5 percent sales tax, or be included within it.

There was also disagreement over whether arts and other groups should share in the funds, and that too will likely return as a point of contention. Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, said the dedicated funding amendment was only able to assemble the votes needed for approval in the senate because it included funding for the arts.

The proponents of last year's push for dedicated funding, the Campaign for Conservation and the Rally for Ducks, Wetlands and Clean Water, are advancing a new version. They'd like a bill that would allow for a ΒΌ of one percent increase in the sales tax. The funds would be used exclusively for retiring conservation bonds. That way, the monies could only be used for long-term investments such as land acquisition, according to the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.

Local legislators expect a variety of variations on the proposal to surface early in the session. Newly-elected Senator Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, expressed his interest in seeing legislation focused on providing and protecting wildlife habitat.

Stir one more ingredient into this boiling pot: debate over the Clean Water Legacy. Juhnke said there was agreement that the state needs $80 million a year if it is going to meet its obligations to clean up our lakes and rivers and comply with the federal Clean Water Act.

Last session, the legislators earmarked $20 million to launch the effort. He and other legislators expect to see more money earmarked for the Clean Water Legacy, but are unsure if $80 million will be approved.

Kubly said he thinks it will be more likely to see $40 million.

The debate will focus on where to find the funding. Rep. Aaron Peterson, DFL-Appleton, said there was discussion last session about taking money raised by the proposed, dedicated sales tax.

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Another, earlier proposal called for an annual fee to be placed on all water users, including septic systems. The so-called "toilet tax wasn't really popular,'' said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. He believes similar ideas will be looked at again, but said it is too early to venture a guess on whether there will be acceptance of one form of funding or another.

Urdahl and others do believe it is safe to bet that some type of action will be taken on renewable energy. Peterson, who campaigned on the issue, said there were many legislators from both parties who did likewise.

Renewable energy will enjoy strong support from rural legislators for its economic development potential, both he and Juhnke pointed out. "Almost every dime goes to rural Minnesota,'' said Juhnke of renewable energy.

Legislators also noted that debate over carbon dioxide emissions and climate change will likely lead to support for renewable energy from urban and rural lawmakers alike. The legislators said they expect to see some sort of renewable energy initiative to be approved.

Last session, legislators considered the so-called 2020 requirement. It aimed to see renewable energy provide 20 percent of the power used by major electric utilities by 2020. Governor Tim Pawlenty is calling for a 25 percent renewable energy use by 2025, but his initiative includes ethanol and biodiesel in that mix.

These three issues -- dedicated funding, clean water funding, and renewable energy -- will emerge early in the debate and come to fruition in some sort of legislation, according to the area lawmakers,

They see plenty of other areas for debate. Kubly said he anticipates continued debate to emerge on the use of off-highway vehicles in state forests. He believes much of that debate will find its way to the subcommittee he leads.

Urdahl said there is sure to be continued friction over feedlot issues, and what he termed "rural sprawl'' or on-going residential development in agricultural areas.

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Peterson said he also anticipates continued work towards recreational trail development. He's optimistic about seeing support grow for funding.

The legislators believe that natural resources will command greater attention in the new Legislature. Peterson said there is an acknowledgment that natural resources have been lagging. Funding has not grown and has actually declined in the last 30 years, Peterson noted.

There is a feeling amongst the legislators that progress on natural resource legislation is possible.

"I'm optimistic,'' said newly-elected Senator Joe Gimse. He said his introduction to other freshmen legislators left him feeling convinced that there is a desire to move forward on these and other issues. If there was any message in the election, he said it was a desire to see legislators "stop the partisanship and gridlock and get something done.''

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