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Rep. Phyllis Kahn shepherding Legacy funding bill through political labyrinth

Controversy surrounds the Legacy bill, with disagreement over citizen recommendations for project funding — and the appropriation process.

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.
MinnPost file photo by James Nord

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.

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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.

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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.”