Legislative Update: Larger budget surplus drives tax reform talk

MN House 2017

According to the Minnesota Management and Budget’s (MMB) February Forecast, which was issued on Tuesday, Feb. 28, the state is projected to have a slightly larger budget surplus than what was predicted back in November. As has been mentioned before, policymakers have been discussing a variety of ways to manage the budget surplus, now estimated at approximately $1.65 billion for the two-year budget cycle that begins July 1.

Tax relief measures are among the more popular proposals of how to allocate the surplus. House Taxes Committee Chair Rep. Greg Davids, R- Preston, told Minnesota Public Radio that he estimated between $6 and $7 billion in legislative tax relief has already been proposed. This means that a significant amount of discussion will be conducted concerning the numerous tax relief proposals, including those that will compete for farm property tax relief.

In addition, there are several proposals to spend the surplus and much more, which sets up the political and policy conflicts of more state spending vs. providing tax relief.

After proposing approximately $300 million in tax relief, Gov. Dayton is cautioning lawmakers to resist further tax relief measures, to make sure that they won’t adversely impact the budget in later years. Republican leaders, including Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka want to continue a dialogue with the Governor but still want to pursue greater tax relief.

Buffer

Buffer strip near Belgrade, MN

Buffer Law and Water Quality
More than 4,000 changes have been submitted to the DNR Ecological and Water Resources Division for changes in the state’s water buffer map, the definitions from which determine the amount of land that must be taken out of production. The DNR has made approximately 2,500 changes to date. Adam Birr, executive director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, has provided member perspectives to legislators and MCGA is also funding a collaborative research effort between University of Minnesota and BWSR that would identify effective buffer alternative practices.

Outside of the Capitol, the Minnesota Department of Agriculture plans to help farmers in Sherburne County measure water quality in area wells in an effort to reduce the amount of nitrates in the water. If higher levels are found, the MDA will help farmers with ways to reduce the levels. If wells are not brought into compliance, further regulatory measures may result.

Other Issues
A bill to eliminate the need for state permits to do ditch mowing has passed the necessary committees in the House and is now awaiting a floor vote. MCGA opposes permits from state, county, or townships for any haying and/or mowing in road ditches on state, county, or township right-of-ways.

The Massachusetts legislature is currently considering a bill to restrict the use of pesticides containing neonicotinoids. Maryland and Connecticut recently enacted restrictions on those pesticides and the European Union placed a moratorium on their use in 2013. We are not aware of any legislation dealing with neonicotinoids in Minnesota to date, although we will continue to monitor this issue.

National Issues
President Trump’s nominee to lead the U. S. Department of Agriculture – Sonny Purdue – has not received his confirmation hearing because, according to Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, the President’s staff hadn’t sent in the necessary paperwork on the nominee. This issue should hopefully be resolved soon.

President Trump also signed another executive order that gives the recently confirmed leader of the EPA, Scott Pruitt, the ability to begin the process of rewriting the guidelines associated with the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule. The WOTUS rule has drawn concern from ag groups because of the lack of clarity regarding which waters are affected by it and the permits necessary to become compliant.

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