Minnesota House votes for board to run trust lands
Dennis Lien, Pioneer Press, March 19, 2012 –
The Minnesota House opted Monday, March 19, to approve a shift in control of 2.5 million acres of school trust lands in northern Minnesota from a state agency to a new board in hopes of generating more money for schools.
The House voted 104-26 to scrap oversight of those lands by the Department of Natural Resources and give it to a five-member permanent school fund board.
Sponsored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell, the bill tries to raise more money for public schools from land the federal government gave the state when it was established in 1858. Most of that land was sold off for agriculture or development long ago, but what’s left is typically in northern Minnesota and not available for sale or such revenue-generating practices as development.
The DNR manages those lands, generating income through timber sales, land leases and mineral royalties. After expenses, it sends leftover money to a permanent trust fund.
In recent years, that fund has generated $22 million to $27 million a year for public schools, a level critics of the arrangement contend could be higher.
Advocates of retaining DNR control, however, contend the change would create a new bureaucracy and would leave lands vulnerable to degradation. They also question whether the state would bring in more money.
The legislation would create the school fund board, which would select a director who is responsible for administering and managing those lands. It also creates a legislative commission to advise the board and review legislation affecting it.
A similar bill is awaiting action in a Senate panel.