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Rep. Phyllis Kahn shepherding Legacy funding bill through political labyrinth

MinnPost file photo by James Nord
Rep. Phyllis Kahn said she’s confident there will be a Legacy bill this year, even though a number of key issues need be resolved.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn sat on a bench a slight distance from the House chamber counting votes and discussing strategy on Saturday afternoon, shortly after the omnibus Legacy bill was removed from the day’s agenda.

It was one of two major bills to be debated Saturday in the House, but it appeared as if Kahn didn’t have the votes to pass the $538 million appropriation for clean water, parks and trails, natural resources and the arts.

“Obviously I wouldn’t be sitting out here if things were going perfectly,” she said with a laugh.

There has been a lot of controversy in recent weeks over the Legacy bill, including opposition in the Star Tribune, heated disagreement among members over citizen recommendations for project funding — and over the process for appropriation.

And now there’s drama over whether the bill will pass.

Kahn said she’s confident there will be a Legacy bill this year, even though a number of key issues need be resolved.

If GOP members won’t step forward — the lead Republican on the Legacy Committee says he won’t vote for the bill in its current form — Kahn will have to stitch together a coalition of fractured Democrats to get the votes.

“There’s so many fights that you don’t even know what direction to go in,” Kahn said. “When you’re dealing with an issue that you’re going to need a lot of votes on, every fight matters.”

There’s been serious disagreement throughout the process over whether Kahn has listened well enough to recommendations from the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council, particularly about her funding of metro-area parks and land on the Fond Du Lac reservation.

Kahn’s proposal also moved the council from an annual budget to a biennial budget, which caused a serious stir.

“I mean, these were largely citizen advisory groups that provided recommendations for the bill, and I think their recommendations are not being adhered to in the manner that the councils and advisory groups would like to see,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, the lead Republican on the committee.

Kahn said she’s meeting with House leadership to discuss the measure on Monday, but it’s not likely the bill will come up for a floor vote then.

She said she has 80 solid votes to defeat a potential amendment to revert to the full Lessard-Sams funding recommendations, but she isn’t sure how that would affect chances for overall passage.

Kahn said she had to work out some issues with suburban Democrats to gain votes from that group.

Urdahl, who said he tried to broker a compromise in committee, backed away from coming to the rescue. It appears Republicans favor going with funding recommendations from the citizen councils.

“I would hope that there is one [Legacy bill], but I’m in the minority,” he said. “The minority doesn’t pass the bills. They need 68 votes, and they’ve got 73 members. They can find the way to pass the bill, and I think that’s the challenge that she’s facing.”

Kahn said a lot of other people worry about vote counts more than she does.

“If it needs to go down once, maybe it does.”

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Comments (4)

  1. Submitted by jim flanagan on 04/22/2013 - 01:37 pm.

    will never pass

    Quit wasting the public time and money on this. The Governor and the Minnesota Senate are dead set against this. Do a favor for the Minnesotans who voted for this – myself included – and remove Ms. Khan from this committee!

    I didn’t vote for this so some bureacrat can ignore Lessard Council recommendations and shift it into some of their pet projects…..

  2. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/23/2013 - 12:06 pm.

    No, you didn’t vote for this specific set of recommendations by the commission. You voted, as did I, for the Legacy amendment. That’s different.

    The issue here is not a strong-minded, scientifically-trained, and experienced DFL legislator, Phyllis Kahn. The issue is complicated, has to do with competing views of where wildlife lives in Minnesota (IS there any wildlife or green space to conserve in the Twin Cities metro?–a question that group of citizens apparently answered in the negative), and whether the legislature has only a rubber-stamp function on that commission’s work. I would hate to see legislative discretion abolished.

    So, let’s not hide behind attempts to get a thoughtful and knowledgeable steward of our state’s resources removed from her position as a legislative leader. Let’s think carefully about the issues involved (which, by the way, this article never makes an attempt to discuss).

  3. Submitted by Tom Weyandt on 04/23/2013 - 12:22 pm.

    She’s no bureaucrat!

    Please Mr. Flanagan, don’t defame public employee’s. Ms. Kahn is an elected official, not a bureaucrat.

  4. Submitted by Nick Bancks on 04/23/2013 - 11:41 pm.


    A little scrutiny is a good thing, and Phyllis Kahn’s legislative past intent in regards to the Legacy Amendment, or the LSOHC for that matter, has been murky at best. The LSOHC membership was split on recommending funding for metro park projects, ultimately not providing their imprimatur due to what the majority of the council saw as, among other objections, dubious “habitat” restoration. So it is a bit of a misstatement to depict the council as viewing there to be no wildlife in the metro worth protecting, enhancing, or restoring. Rather, it is probably more accurate to say that the proposed projects did not meet, at least in the LSOHC’s eyes, the intent of what the Legacy Amendment was created to fund. Ms. Kahn has also tried (unsuccessfully-as she pulled her proposed amendment) to change the LSOHC member make-up, tilting the favor towards the side of legislators by increasing the council to 17 members, with 10 of those coming from the House or Senate. In the past, along with several other House members, she (successfully) sought to change the definitions of original language of the amendment, expanding the scope beyond the original intent of the amendment that many voted for. Only after a large outcry from various MN conservation and outdoor groups did the language get changed back to something very similar to what was in the original amendment. All this being said it does not look like the Senate or Governor will agree with, nor support, Kahn’s bill should it come out of the House.

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