- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2015

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - A state panel will begin meeting next week to determine how to spend $46.3 million in Minnesota Lottery proceeds and related funding, choosing winners and losers from among 97 environmental and conservation projects vying for the money.

The Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources, which is made up of 17 state senators, representatives and appointed members of the public, will meet for three days next week and three more the week after. It will recommend to the Legislature how to spend money from the state’s Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, which comes from lottery proceeds and the fund’s investment income.

For every $1 that Minnesotans spend on lottery tickets, about 24 cents goes to the state. Of that 24 cents, about 7 cents goes toward the trust fund, or about $34 million last year, said Susan Thornton, the commission’s director. The fund has provided about $500 million for around 1,000 projects throughout the state since 1991.

Last week, the commission by consensus deemed 97 proposals out of 186 originally submitted to be worthy of further consideration. Most of the 97 proposals, which have requested a total of $70.4 million, fall into the broad categories of clean water, habitat, protecting pollinators, education, wildlife, renewable energy and invasive species.

Project leaders will start pitching their proposals to the commission on Tuesday. The presentations will wrap up Oct. 8. As usual, the Department of Natural Resources and the University of Minnesota are among the biggest requesters.

“I tell them to put their teaching hats on, but have fun with it,” Thornton said.

The largest single proposal is $9.3 million that the DNR wants so that it can add about 1,000 acres of high-quality native plant communities and wildlife habitat to its Scientific and Natural Areas, where only limited outdoor recreation is allowed. It would also fund improvements at around 50 SNAs and outreach efforts. The DNR is also seeking $2 million to buy privately owned land locked within the boundaries of six existing state parks.

University of Minnesota entities have over 40 projects up for consideration. The largest request is for $5 million for the Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center. The money would accelerate research to protect prairies, wetlands, forests and farms against invasive land plants and pests, including non-native weeds, pathogens and insects.

The commission plans to make its decisions in late October and forward its recommendations in bill form to the 2016 Legislature. Lawmakers can and sometimes do make changes before the bill goes to the governor for his signature.

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Online:

Legislative-Citizen Commission on Minnesota Resources: https://www.lccmr.leg.mn

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