By Amanda Bilek, Minnesota Corn Growers Association senior public policy director
The 91st session for the Minnesota Legislature convened today. Even though some of the same policy challenges persist for Minnesota, there are new dynamics, faces and leadership as the legislative session gets underway.
Yesterday, Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan were inaugurated alongside other state constitutional officers—attorney general, secretary of state and state auditor. Governor Mark Dayton served his last day as governor and is retiring after 40 years of public service. Governor Walz and Lieutenant Governor Flanagan have also named commissioners to run various state agencies and most are new with only a few returning commissioners from the Dayton administration.
In the legislature, there is a new Democratic Farmer Labor (DFL) majority in the House of Representatives. In the fall election, the DFL picked up 18 seats, giving them a 75-59 advantage. Most of the DFL gains were in suburban legislative districts. Overall, there are 39 new House members.
In the Senate, the Republicans maintain the majority with 34 members. There will be a special election to replace DFL Senator Tony Lourey who was selected by Governor Walz to lead the Department of Human Services. We also have a new Senate president with the election of Jeremy Miller (R-Winona).
The Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) welcomes Governor Walz, Lieutenant Governor Flanagan and agency leaders, as well as new and returning members of the Minnesota Legislature to the 91st session. MCGA looks forward to working with you to advance policy priorities that are important to corn farmers and rural communities. Here is a look at the priorities that we will be advocating for this session.
Tax Relief and Certainty
Buffer Property Tax Relief: As readers might recall, MCGA led the effort last legislative session to address the need to eliminate the financial penalty of continuing to impose property taxes at the highest rates on farm land that is removed from production for compliance with the buffer law. MCGA has proposed to establish a $50 per acre credit for ag land in compliance with Minnesota buffer law. We will be advocating for this priority again and elevated the issue with candidates during the election. Governor Walz has indicated his support for the proposal.
Section 179 Conformity: Included in the vetoed tax bill from last session was state conformity on federal tax code section 179, capital equipment expensing. The federal Tax Cut and Jobs Act raised the deduction for equipment expensing to $1,000,000, while the current allowable deduction in Minnesota is $25,000. The increase would provide significant tax relief for farmers.
Clean Water Fund: The Clean Water Council is recommending a total of $262.704 million in projects and programs for Clean Water Fund spending. The legislature needs to approve the recommendations and MCGA will be advocating for more funding directed towards on-the-ground conversation practices instead of state agency planning and administration activities.
MCGA will also effectively respond to newly proposed water quality or environmental regulations by communicating with legislators about our sustainability initiatives, research investments and farmer-led innovation grants to demonstrate our sustainability commitment in action.
Additionally, MCGA will be looking for opportunities to advance environmental permitting efficiencies proposals either at the Legislature or by working with the Walz administration to help alleviate regulatory challenges for new or expanding agricultural processing facilities.
AGREETT: The Agricultural Research, Education, Extension and Technology Transportation Program (AGREETT) shows we’re making progress on agricultural research but we must do much more if we are to advance Minnesota as a leading ag and food state. To build on the success of the AGREETT program, we will be advocating for additional funding for the program as a part of the agriculture budget.
Road and Bridge Infrastructure: MCGA will be advocating for additional funding for road and bridge infrastructure directed towards Greater Minnesota.
In addition to the above priorities, there is no shortage of issues to monitor and advocate for our positions as needed. We will be watching and weighing in as needed on the issues of healthcare, ditch moving, access to crop protection tools and agriculture program spending.
The main work of the session this year will be passing a two-year, balanced budget for the State of Minnesota. This issue along with other big policy issues on education, healthcare, transportation funding and social services will require a significant amount of time to address. MCGA will be there to advocate on behalf of farmers for our priorities and other issues that will arise.