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Pioneer Editorial: Veto of lake management funds puzzling

Minnesota's water resources are our most valuable resources, and must be protected and preserved for future generations in as pristine a shape as possible. But development over the years has degraded many of our lakes, rivers and streams to some extent, and is why millions of dollars is being set aside today for clean-up efforts.

Anything on a preventive end, to save our lakes and rivers, should be looked upon favorably by government. That's why we find it puzzling that in a bill providing millions of dollars to water clean-up efforts Gov. Tim Pawlenty would line-item veto a $200,000 item that is geared, through mostly volunteer efforts, to keep Minnesota lakes clean.

The governor vetoed grant funding to the fledgling Star Lakes Board, a bill carried by Sen. Mary Olson, DFL-Bemidji, and crafted with the help of mayors, city officials and lake associations throughout "watered" Minnesota, especially our area of north-central Minnesota.

The governor red-lined the item, saying it was his understanding that the $100,000 appropriated last year was one-time funding for a pilot project and that "if additional funding is needed for this new board, it should come from sources other than constitutionally dedicated dollars."

But that's precisely the right funding source for this program. As Sen. Olson explained in Sunday's edition, the establishment of the Star Lake Board is permanent, not a one-time pilot project. The grants to be issued to lake associations under the board can be considered pilot projects, until the board gets a better understanding of the problem and solutions of working with volunteers to improve lake quality.

The standards are strict -- lake associations must meet certain monitoring standards and must have in place a lake management plan to qualify. Those that are Star Lakes can seek special state services to aid them, such as allowing state agencies to prioritize Star Lakes when allocating financial and staff resources.

It has been understood by the Star Lake Board -- and it's in the law creating the board -- that it can and will seek private donations as well as state monies. The $200,000 sought today would be seed money used to trigger other funds.

It seems highly appropriate that the funding was sought in the new Clean Water Legacy Act funding, that approved by voters last fall to increase the state's sales tax by 0.0375 percent for clean water, outdoors, cultural and heritage programs. The funding would not have taken away from any other General Fund allocations to the state Department of Natural Resources or Minnesota Board of Soil and Water Resources.

The Star Lakes Board is a perfect example of a public/private partnership, a partnership that the governor himself preaches about in his effort to make state government smaller.

The governor also line-item vetoed in another bill a provision for Star Farms, which he said "may have merit, but does not rise to the level of a top priority considering the state's budget situation." Star Lakes is already an established program, and one with proven merit to preserve and protect our lakes.

Singling out this one program for line-item veto was short-sighted and just plain wrong.