Legislative Update: Final debates around ag policy begin to take shape

By Amanda Bilek, senior public policy director for the Minnesota Corn Growers Association

Last week the Minnesota Legislature reconvened in St. Paul following an Easter/Passover break and was busy in long floor sessions debating, amending and passing omnibus budget bills for various agencies and state government functions.

The House and Senate will finish passing major budget bills and have committed to appointing conference committees by May 1. At the beginning of session, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and Governor Tim Walz outlined additional timing objectives for the final weeks of session in the hopes of a more orderly and timely conclusion. In addition to the May 1 benchmark, leadership outlined a May 6 objective to provide fiscal targets to conference committee chairs and May 13 for completed conference committee reports. 

However, with a constitutional adjournment date of May 20 approaching, negotiations among the House, Senate and Governor will be critical in resolving vast differences in spending bills. Here is a quick rundown of what has been passed and were things stand.

Agriculture Finance

Funding for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Board of Animal Health and the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute are outlined in House and Senate agriculture finance bills. The bills have many same and similar provisions and appropriations, but also a few key differences that MCGA will be watching closely in conference committee. SF 2226, the Senate omnibus agriculture, rural development and housing finance bill, was approved by the Senate on April 23 by a vote of 43-24. The House omnibus agriculture, food and housing finance bill was passed on April 26 and approved by the House 99-28.

Both bills include base funding the Agriculture Research, Extension, Education and Technology Transfer (AGREETT) program at the University of Minnesota at $9.3 million per year, but each bill designates some of the funds for specific purposes and will be a key issue to resolve in conference committee. Funding for AGREETT is a key legislative priority for MCGA.

The Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Council (AFREC) is extended but only for five years in the House bill and for 10 years in the Senate. MCGA supports a ten-year extension for AFREC.

The House and Senate agriculture finance bills also contain recommendations from a multi-sector Grain Advisory Group convened by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture (MDA) to require additional financial reviews, audit and bond requirements for cash grain buyers. The advisory group recommendations were in response to elevator failures in Porter and Ashby.

There is also additional funding for biofuel infrastructure at $500,000 per year in the Senate bill and one-time funding of $325,000 in the House bill. Funding for the MDA Bioincentive Program is included at $1.5 million per year in the House and $2.5 million in the Senate.

Taxes

On April 25th the House approved their tax bill (HF 2125) on a vote of 75-55. The House tax bill includes full federal conformity on Section 179 capital equipment expensing and an increase in the Ag2School credit from 40 percent to 70 percent.

The Senate Taxes committee approved their tax bill (SF 5) on April 30 by a vote of 39-28. The Senate tax bill includes full federal conformity on Section 179, making it retroactive to 2018 and allows full deduction for the tax year property was placed in service. The Senate provision for Section 179 is similar to the House tax bill and Governor’s budget. The Senate tax bill also includes language clarifying agricultural homestead classification for ownership and operating entities.

Neither the House nor Senate tax bill includes the buffer property tax credit. While we are disappointed to not see this provision included, we will continue to advocate for addressing this issue.

Environment finance

Environment finance bills include funding for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, the Department of Natural Resources and the Board of Water and Soil Resources. The Senate passed their omnibus environment and natural resources finance bill (SF 2314) on April 23 by a vote of 35-32 and the House (HF 2209) on April 30 by a vote of 73-60.

The omnibus environment bills have significant differences to resolve in conference committee on appropriations for two-year state agency budgets in addition to some policy provisions that MCGA is watching closely.

Be sure to follow the MCGA blog and its social channels (FacebookTwitter) throughout session for updates from the Capitol. You can also follow me on Twitter (@AjBilek).

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