Minnesota Senate passes bill to create panel to oversee school trust lands

/ 30 March 2012 / jennifer

Dennis Lien, Pioneer Press, March 30, 2012 –

A bill changing oversight of Minnesota’s school trust lands to direct more money to public schools has cleared the Minnesota Senate.

The Senate voted 54-8 on Friday, March 30, to establish a 16-member legislative- citizen panel that would recommend policies to a newly created school trust lands adviser and the state Department of Natural Resources.

All, in turn, would look for ways to maximize earnings on 2.5 million acres of school trust lands in northern Minnesota. The DNR now manages those lands, generating income through timber sales, 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 that critics, including the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Benjamin Kruse, R-Brooklyn Park, contend should be much higher.

The proposed commission would consist of eight public members, four senators and four representatives – all appointed by the Senate, House and governor. The governor would appoint the proposed adviser.

All salaries and expenses would come from school trust lands revenue.

The DNR already is charged with maximizing the trust fund’s return while maintaining sound conservation principles. But Kruse’s bill says that when those goals conflict, the DNR “shall give precedence to the long-term economic return in managing school trust lands.”

Critics have questioned whether the new approach would generate significantly more money. They also contend that doing so would come at an environmental cost to the state.

The federal government gave school trust lands to the state in 1858. Since then, most of that property has been sold off for agriculture or development.

Two weeks ago, the House passed a similar measure sponsored by Rep. Tim O’Driscoll, R-Sartell. Unless the House adopts the Senate version, a conference committee will have to resolve differences between them.

Dennis Lien can be reached at 651-228-5588. Follow him at twitter.com/DennisLienPP.