Legislative session preview: Property taxes, water and transportation top list of agricultural issues

Anna Boroff

Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director.

Written by Anna Boroff, MCGA Senior Public Policy Director

The 2016 Minnesota legislative session began this week and is scheduled to end on May 23. That gives lawmakers about 11 weeks to address everything from tax relief to transportation, water quality to a bonding bill, and probably a few issues that aren’t even on our radar at this time.

Oh, and there’s that $900 million state surplus…

Agriculture issues
Before the sessions kicks into high gear, let’s look at a few issues that farmers will be following as the session unfolds. Agriculture and rural Minnesota are sure to receive plenty of attention this session, since control of next year’s legislature will be decided on how Greater Minnesota votes.

  • Property tax relief. The Minnesota Corn Growers Association’s No. 1 priority this session will be property tax relief. House Speaker Kurt Daudt and Gov. Mark Dayton have both said farmers and rural businesses need property tax relief in order to help rural areas catch up with Metro regions in the economic recovery. Specifically, the weight and cost of school debt bonds that fall upon farmers must be addressed.
  • Buffers. Yes, the buffer issue will linger for another legislative session. This time, the legislature will need to resolve and clarify the private ditch issue as soon as possible. We’re hopeful other clarifying changes can be made to the law. Watch for a post in the near future here on MinnesotaCornerstone.com with further updates on the buffer topic.
  • Water quality. In general, expect water quality to be a big topic this session and into next year. Dayton has identified many water quality items — some of which directly impact farmers and some of which do not — he’d like included in a large-scale bonding bill. To get a better sense of what will likely be discussed in the area of water quality, check out this summary of the recent Minnesota Water Quality Summit, which was attended by nearly 1,000 people and several lawmakers.
  • Transportation. A tax bill wasn’t the only thing left unfinished last session. A transportation bill was also supposed to be a top priority, but leaders never agreed on how to get it done. Expect it to be a main agenda item this session. Here at MCGA, we’ll be working to ensure that Greater Minnesota receives an equitable share of new transportation funding. Maintaining rural roads and and bridges are essential to both the farm and rural economy.
  • DNR Surface Waters Report. The Department of Natural Resources will be reporting to the legislature a series of recommendations for policy changes related to how water is appropriated. These changes would impact farmers who rely on irrigation to remain in operation. This issue might not get the mainstream attention that taxes, transportation and water quality receives, but it’s something MCGA will be following very closely and commenting when appropriate. More information can be found here.
  • AURI. Finally, MCGA supports a bonding proposal for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), which would help build a developmental kitchen and testing area to bring value-added agriculture ideas to reality.

My take on GOP and DFL goals
We’ll see how these items shake out as the session develops. Of course, the usual back-and-forth of politics will play a role. The House GOP wants tax relief, no gas tax increase and a smaller bonding bill. Senate republicans are encouraging private investments over local government aid increases and addressing the transportation needs of rural Minnesota.

The Senate DFL favors a transportation bill with new revenue (i.e. gas tax, etc.), is a bit hesitant on large-scale tax cuts and wants a bigger bonding bill. Senate DFLers are also talking about increasing local government aid to rural communities and a transportation bill with a rural Minnesota focus. On the House side, DFLers are talking about broadband funding for rural areas, in addition to some of the other issues mentioned.

Gov. Dayton continues to emphasize clean water, especially in his bonding proposal. Expect the governor to continue emphasizing water issues well after this legislative session has ended.

Starting fast
It’s already been a busy week on the legislative front here at MCGA.

Today, MCGA farmer-leader Bruce Peterson, Executive Director Dr. Adam Birr and I are attending the Minnesota Chamber session priorities event, where the four legislative leaders and Gov. Dayton will outline their goals for this upcoming session. It’s always a lively conversation between lawmakers in front of an audience of around 1,600 business and policy leaders.

Wednesday has me talking agriculture policy and other issues important to Minnesota Corn on a commodities panel at the Southwest Minnesota State University Farm Outlook & Education Seminar.

On Thursday, we’ll be monitoring the House Agriculture committee, which is hearing updates from the Board of Animal Health, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and AURI. Later on Thursday, the Senate Environment and Energy Committee will hear a bill that would reinstate the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency’s citizen’s board. the citizen’s board was a controversial topic last session when it was eliminated by the legislature. Later in the year, Dayton partially reinstated the board, but it doesn’t have the same authority it originally had.

Stay up to date
I’ll do my best to post regular updates through the legislative session here at MinnesotaCornerstone. If you’d like to follow along in real time, follow me on Twitter.

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