Quiet investments in a better quality of life
Every session of the Minnesota Legislature features robust debates about big ideas and bold policy initiatives that grab the headlines. But often, the day-to-day work of governing can go unnoticed. People don’t often get to hear about some of the less flashy, but important, actions that have a real impact.
Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan recently released their One Minnesota Budget, focused on making Minnesota the best state in the nation for kids. The Met Council proposals included in the budget represent a consistent approach to protecting and sustaining our region’s high quality of life.
Investing in our regional parks
A standout of our high quality of life is our incredible regional park system. With 44 regional parks, 12 park reserves, 55 regional trails and 8 special recreation features like Saint Paul’s Como Park and Conservatory, this system draws more annual visits than Yellowstone, Yosemite, and the Grand Canyon combined. Proposed investments of nearly $37 million will pay for much needed maintenance, modernization, and operations of these treasured places.
Over the next two years, the Governor is also proposing a $52 million investment from the Parks Legacy Fund. This gives our partner agencies the ability to connect more people to the outdoors. The funding can be used for a wide variety of things including programming, land purchases, and restoring wildlife.
Preparing for a changing climate
Climate change poses a threat to our quality of life. The Met Council has been working for more than two decades to reduce our emissions. In the last decade, we created mapping and modeling tools to help us and communities adapt to climate threats. These include a tool to identify heat islands so that cities can adapt building and landscaping practices to make those spaces more livable. Another tool helps cities identify where to plant trees to improve public health and reduce the impacts of increased heat.
The Governor takes this work a step further, proposing $5 million to create a climate impact assessment tool that will pinpoint where the people living in our region are most vulnerable to climate change. This could include extreme heat, drought, and flooding, as well as damage to roadway and other essential infrastructure.
Ensuring an abundant, clean supply of water
Even though we live in the land of 10,000 lakes, we can’t take clean and abundant water for granted as our population grows and climate change brings more extreme weather events. The governor proposes to invest $1.1 million a year to fund the Met Council’s water supply sustainability work to address emerging threats to our drinking water supply and identify shared solutions to preserve this resource.
Another $750,000 a year for the Met Council would fund grants to communities to help households afford water-saving appliances, including irrigation controllers. The average family can save more than $380 a year by replacing outdated appliances with ENERGY STAR©-rated appliances. This program helps conserve groundwater, which in some parts of the region is being drawn down without replenishment over time.
Operating a sustainable transit system
The Met Council will continue to convert the Metro Transit bus fleet to zero emission electric-powered vehicles over time. A proposed one-time, $29 million state investment would purchase 30 electric buses to help us meet that goal.
Just as important as modernizing our bus fleet is operating it sustainably. As we look at the cost of providing transit to the region beyond this biennium, we will encounter a systemic budget shortfall. Funds from the Minnesota Motor Vehicle Sales Tax often fall short of projections and we need a reliable funding source to fill that hole. A proposed 1/8th cent increase in the sales tax in the seven-county metro area would help fill this gap. That extra penny for every $8 dollars spent will have a big impact on our ability to provide quality transit.
I am excited about this slate of ideas being presented to legislators and I’m looking forward to the discussion we will have about these issues. This is an opportunity to make thoughtful, consistent investments that will improve people’s lives in our region.