What is the LC(C)MR and Why Should You Care?

You might not have realized it, but yesterday, August 15th, was a big day for the environment. A new State law officially took effect that changed the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) to the Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCCMR). The change might not seem that important to the average environmentalist, but that extra “C” represents the culmination of years of political wrangling between citizens and lawmakers, various groups of sportsmen, environmentalists, and between Governor Pawlenty and the Legislature.

This new MEP blog will look at the history and impact of the LC(C)MR, and what the proposed changes mean for Minnesotans.

The Short History of the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources

Ever since it’s inception in 1963, a group of key lawmakers called the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources (LCMR) has decided each year how to spend money from Minnesota’s Environmental Trust Fund. (Today most of the Environmental Trust Fund money comes from State Lottery revenues.) The LCMR is important, not because it spends a lot of money -- the yearly total is usually around $40 million – but because the LCMR dollars are intended to be used for unconventional, educational, and entrepreneurial projects that might not otherwise get state funding.

Here are just a few examples of LCMR projects from the past five years:

• Acquiring key parcels of fish and wildlife habitat
• Fighting invasive species (e.g. Eurasian milfoil, zebra mussels)
• Development of park land on the Mississippi River’s Gray Cloud Island
• Refurbishment of the Dakota County Gun Club
• An educational miniature golf course in New Ulm
• A program that brought young peregrine falcons into Stillwater High School classrooms
• A study of water quality in Bemidji-area lakes
• An environmental literacy program at the Sabathani Community Center in Minneapolis’s Phillips Neighborhood
• A flood-reduction project in Hugo
• A University of Minnesota research program that control invasive carp populations
• A study on the impact of private wells on the water supply in Afton

(You can find a more complete list here, conveniently arranged by county.)

While none of these projects are very large, the total impact of the Trust Fund dollars has added up. Since 1963 the LCMR has spent over $500 million dollars on over a thousand projects in every part of the state.

The Fight over Citizens on the LCMR

Even before Governor Pawlenty took office in 2002, there were some complaints about how the LCMR was distributing funds. Most notably, many members of the Citizen Advisory Committee (CAC) were starting to feel that legislators weren’t listening to their project ideas. The CAC, along with Ventura DNR head Al Garber, accused the LCMR legislators of funding pork projects in their home districts, neglecting too many environmental proposals, and not having a strict-enough focus on habitat preservation.

In 2002, when Pawlenty took office in and was met with a huge $4 billion budget deficit, the LCMR conflict reached an impasse. First, in order to balance the state budget, the Governor cut one of the Environmental Trust Fund’s income streams, taking $15 million of yearly cigarette tax money and putting it into the general fund.

But then the Governor announced a plan to replace the Legislative Commission with an entirely new body composed of appointed citizens, removing the state legislature from the Trust Fund picture altogether.

During that year, the LCMR became one of the main political footballs of a divisive 2005 session, one that saw the state government forced into an unprecedented shutdown when party leaders couldn’t reach an agreement.

On one side, the Governor and citizen groups were calling for streamlined, efficient government. On the other side, lawmakers were warning of a power-grab by the Governor that would hurt future environmental projects. In the end, while the Republican-controlled House passed a version of the Governor’s reform plan, the DFL-dominated Senate refused to agree to a new Commission arrangement.

Finally, in 2006, after weeks of meeting by a bi-partisan task force, legislators and citizen-leaders reached a compromise on changes to the LCMR. These changes, which added voting seven citizen-members to the Commission while reducing the number of legislators to ten, were signed into law and took effect yesterday.

A Chat With LCMR Chair, Kathy Tingelstad

To find out what’s going on with the LC(C)MR today, we asked current LCMR Chair, State Representative Kathy Tingelstad, a few questions about the new Commission. Last year, Representative Tingelstad sponsored the bill that changed the LCMR by adding citizens and streamlining the decision-making process.

Here are a few highlights from the interview:

MEP: What’s the difference between LCMR dollars and regular legislative appropriations?

Tingelstad: That’s a good question. Both fund similar types of things, but the LCMR funds are more like research and development seed money. It’s some of the only money in big government that you can use with a little bit of risk taking. They’re funds for research that might not make the top of the overall list, but because of the added flexibility we’re able to be a little more entrepreneurial.

That’s what makes it an exciting part of state funding. There are not a lot of places in government that have a fund like that.

Another thing is that the LCMR requires at least some matching dollars, which increases the effectiveness of the money. Some projects even get a 12 to 1 match. A lot of the projects wouldn’t even be there except for some federal grant or organizational match to the dollars, and so the LCMR funds end up going a long way.

MEP: Starting this year there are going to be citizens on the Commission. How has the Citizen Advisory Council (CAC) affected LCMR projects?

Tingelstad: It had changed over the last several years because [citizen advisors] wanted a little more of a voice. Representative Dennis Ozment was chair a few years ago and pulled together a task force, and they looked at ways to involve the CAC more. It ended up so that they were at the hearings and would go on site visits and they would put together recommendations, but they weren’t at the table when they took the vote. Under the new structure they will be.

MEP: Do citizen priorities tend to differ from legislative priorities?

Tingelstad: One difference is that the CAC almost never funded environmental education. And the strategic thing that they did was that the legislators are always looking at balance. And so sometimes there would be a hole in the environmental funding somewhere else in the budget, and they would look to use the LCMR money to provide some of that funding.

What’s Happening Now?

We ended the interview with a few questions about the current status of the commission.

According to Tingelstad, under the complexities of the new plan there will be ten legislators (five each from the House and Senate) and seven citizen-members. The Governor will appoint five of the citizen-members, and the House and Senate will each appoint one citizen-member.

Tingelstad added that the House has already appointed their five members (Reps. Tingelstad, Ozment, Wagenius, Carlson, and Pete Nelson), and that she expects the Senate to announce their appointments any day. Senator Dallas Sams is in heading the Senate side of the Commission,

Tingelstad also reported that the Governor has received more than sixty applications for membership on the commission, and that they were still sorting out who might be appointed to the body.

The new changes bring lots of questions, as well. Now that citizens have voting membership on the new LCCMR, could they change how important Trust Fund dollars get spent? Will the Governor’s appointees be focused on game & fish habitat, or environmental education? Will the Trust Fund dollars be used to cover for budget cuts to the Department of Natural Resources, or the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency?

Stay tuned to this website … We’ll be watching the new LCCMR closely to make sure that the focus stays on Minnesota’s Environmental Priorities.