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Partisanship puts DNR fund at risk

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Think again. Instead, the increase may well fall victim to the poisonous political atmosphere in St. Paul.

If that happens, then the Department of Natural Resources' Game and Fish Fund balance could drop to zero next year.

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So, when hunters in blaze orange and anglers on North Country lakes start feeling the impact of the shortfall, they should blame lawmakers' stubborn inability to get along with the other side. Legislative efficiency and goodwill have far-reaching effects -- and the absence of those things does, too.

Like highway taxes, hunting and fishing licenses generate user fees, and the money from the outdoor sports goes directly into DNR management and enforcement work.

But the fees haven't been increased since 2001. "At current spending and revenue levels, the DNR's Game and Fish Fund balance will reach zero by July 2013," the department's website notes.

"The DNR has cut costs and increased efficiencies, but without necessary funding, the capacity to support core fish, wildlife and enforcement work will be reduced, impacting the quality of hunting and fishing in Minnesota."

Gov. Mark Dayton and 60 conservation groups support the fee increase. As mentioned, key Republican leaders do, too -- including state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, a former sheriff, lifelong outdoorsman and the chairman of the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

Ingebrigtsen visited the Herald last week and said he expected the increase to pass his committee and the Senate on a bipartisan basis. That's standard practice on necessary-but-unpopular bills, because it shields the lawmakers who vote "yes" from seeing the vote used against them in campaign.

But this time around, Senate DFLers wouldn't go along.

"Ingebrigtsen blamed election-year politics for Tuesday's actions, saying DFLers want to kill the game and fish bill to make Republicans, who are in the majority, look bad," the Star Tribune reported.

"'They want us to look like the do-nothing Legislature,' he said. ... The amendment was defeated on a 39-27 vote, with only seven Democrats joining 20 Republicans who voted to support it. Ingebrigtsen then tabled the bill, and said later he's unsure if it will be resurrected.

"'I'm not going to bring it forward without some (Democratic) support,' he said."

Historically in Minnesota, that kind of "mutual aid" has been automatic. The parties fought hard through the decades. But they did so with a certain mutual respect, not pressing their advantage to the limit -- and by showing that restraint, they stayed on good working terms.

That's what has changed, if we had to guess. Throughout this year and last year's session, Democrats in the House and Senate minority have complained they've been treated with contempt. Now that the GOP needs them, it's not surprising that the Democrats aren't there.

It's just a shame that the DNR and Minnesota's hunters and anglers will pay the price.

Good working relationships matter, in politics and everywhere else. Minnesota lawmakers should remember that lesson and bring it back to common practice, where it belongs. -- Grand Forks Herald

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