Legislative Update: Major bills coming to fruition

MN Capitol

Leadership in both the Minnesota House of Representatives and Senate continues to focus on the top priorities of tax relief, a state budget and a transportation bill. Legislators will have just two weeks before the 2017 session closes on May 22 to negotiate final agreements with the Dayton administration to avoid a special session.

To move things forward, House and Senate leaders met with the Governor’s office this week to do the groundwork necessary for negotiations to take place on major bills that could soon emerge from conference committees.

AG FINANCE BILL

The Agriculture Finance bill will likely be one of the first bills to be negotiated. The bill currently calls for a $101.88 million appropriation to fund the Department of Agriculture during the next two-year budget cycle. It also includes $10.76 million for the Board of Animal Health and $7.28 million for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. The bill also contains funding for farmer-led councils that would help to implement the state’s buffer law.

BUDGET & TAXES

The Minnesota Constitution requires a budget be approved every two years, by the end of the state’s fiscal year, which ends June 30th, otherwise state agencies will not be able to operate. House and Senate leadership established earlier legislative deadlines this year to provide more time to negotiate key budget and tax legislation before the end of the 2017 session on May 22. While conference committees have agreed to budget targets and are placing the final touches on the omnibus tax bill and budget bills, House and Senate leaders have opened negotiations with the Dayton administration.

As negotiations commence, all sides must be open to compromise if legislation is to be finalized and signed into law. Commissioners for the Governor have expressed concern over proposed budget cuts in many state agencies, which they say will result in layoffs and reduced service levels to the public.

The GOP legislative majority has crafted their tax and budget bills to deliver more tax relief than the Governor. The Legislature is proposing approximately $1.15 billion in overall tax relief over the next two-year budget cycle. It includes local property tax relief for farmers, who have had to carry a large share of the cost for bonds that are used to finance new school building projects in Greater Minnesota.

WATER BUFFER LAW

House and Senate conferees have nearly completed the omnibus environmental, natural resources policy and finance bill, which was also a topic of negotiation between legislative leaders and Gov. Dayton. Conferees must also await the conclusion of other, interconnecting legislation before moving to finalize the bill.

Among other items, the bill currently calls for a two-year delay in the implementation of the state’s water buffer law, currently scheduled to go into effect on Nov. 1. Gov. Dayton has stated that he would veto any bill that would delay its implementation. The bill also clarifies the definition of public and private waters, and modifies requirements to comply with the law. It also prohibits enforcement of buffer requirements unless federal or state assistance is available to the landowner, paying 100 percent of the cost to establish the buffers.

Including the water buffer provisions in a bill that funds agencies such as the Department of Natural Resources and Pollution Control Agency makes it more challenging for the Governor to simply veto a bill. No doubt, this sets up a complicated negotiation between the Legislature and the Governor.

MCGA, several county leaders and many farmers have asked the Governor and Legislators to improve the current law, by providing greater clarity concerning definitions for public and private waters, appropriate buffer widths, and compensation and/or tax relief for land taken out of production to comply with the law. Due to the lack of clarity, MCGA is also asking the law be delayed until local government officials have the time they need to prepare for implementation and to communicate with local farmers about what compliance will look like, and to allow farmers enough time to implement appropriate plans.

MAKE YOUR VOICE HEARD

Considering the importance of changes needed to the state’s water buffer law and tax relief, as well as the short amount of time remaining in this year’s legislative session, MCGA recommends that you contact your state senator and representative by email to express your opinions about these key issues. You can contact your House and Senate member by clicking here. To contact Gov. Dayton, you may use this online form. The voices of farmers do make a difference!

Did you like this article?

Share this post with your friends!