By Rep. Paul Anderson
Our legislative session ended rather quietly this past Sunday, minus the last-minute rush of bills to be passed before the midnight deadline. Only one of the major supplemental budget bills – the one dealing with agriculture, drought relief and broadband – made it to the governor's desk to become law. Several others were close, including a major tax bill, but most of the others had spending differences so far apart that conferees were not able to come to agreement of them.
It came down to the issue of how to deal with our state's huge state budget surplus, now at about $7 billion after funding the replacement of the Unemployment Trust Fund at a cost of $2.7 billion. The two sides had vastly different ideas, with the DFL wanting to spend much of it, while Republicans wanted to see most of it go for tax relief. The House plan was to increase the state budget by 15 percent, while over in the Senate the emphasis was on eliminating the tax on Social Security and lowering the first tier rate on Minnesota's income tax.
After the session had just adjourned, talk was already spreading that we'd be called back for a special session. I'm not so sure. In most cases, agreement on legislation is reached prior to us being called back, and that's going to be difficult. The only two spending bills that were close to agreement in the final days of session were the tax bill and a bonding bill. It looked as if the bonding bill was going to make it to the floor, but last-minute negotiations during the weekend failed to resolve an impasse between the two chambers.
It seemed a bit unusual to still be talking about drought aid for farmers when most parts of the state are having planting delays caused by too much rain this year. The bill was delayed by the inclusion of millions for dollars for the DNR in the House version. In fact, the $10 million for tree planting was more than the amount designated to help farmers deal with the high cost of purchasing forage for their livestock during last summer's drought. In the end, the House DFL agreed to lower the DNR portion down to $5 million, while the amount set aside for aid to farmers was actually increased to just over $8 million in direct grants.
There will also be a large influx of spending for broadband here in Minnesota. At least $60 million in federal dollars was designated for that purpose, along with $25 million in state funding. The concern with relying on the federal money is that we don't know for sure when it will be released. That's the reason no broadband construction was done last year as the federal dollars were not made available. So it's good that at least some state dollars can get projects going this year while we wait for the release of the much bigger chunk of federal money.
Spring planting is very much being delayed this year by the cold and wet weather we are experiencing. Crop insurance deadlines are fast approaching for corn and soybeans, while the deadline for wheat has already passed. Farmers may still elect to plant corn past the June 1 deadline because of the current high price for the commodity, but they will have their crop insurance guarantee drop every day past the deadline.
The first major holiday of the summer season is upon us. Remember the reason for Memorial Day as we honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Although we face challenges, this is still the greatest country in the world.