Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, introduced S.F. 63 last week, which prohibits using the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund for the payment of debt service on bonds.
The use of the fund came into question at the end of the 2018 session when, for the first time in the trust fund's 30-year history, the funds were allocated for construction projects by the Legislature. Those concerns grew into a swell over the fall when several Minnesota environmental and conservation groups filed a lawsuit contesting the Legislature violated state law with its actions.
Legislators argued the trust fund allowed for the wastewater construction projects, but opponents point to a Minnesota statute that specifically states the trust fund "may not be spent for (the) purpose of municipal water pollution control ... hazardous waste disposal facilities ... (or) solid waste disposal facilities ... ." Ruud's bill adds further clarification to the statute, explicitly barring it from payment of principal or interest on bonds or other debt services moving forward.
"While the projects may be worthwhile and the Legislature truly meant well in its intent, the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund was never intended for use in this capacity," Ruud said in a news release. "My legislation will help clarify this, finding common ground for the future, and ensuring that the ENRTF (Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund) works in its intended capacity to protect, conserve, preserve and enhance the state's air, natural resources, water, land, fish and other wildlife."
Ruud's legislation might also save the state money in the future in the form of reduced interest payments. The $98 million taken from ENRTF for bonding was backed as appropriation bonds compared to general obligation bonds used typically in the process. The interest payments on these bonds tend to be much higher, costing the state more on the projects in the long run.