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Bill support splits along party lines

Published (4/10/2009)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Traditional bipartisan support for the bill that lays out agriculture and veterans affairs biennial spending was nowhere to be found April 7 as Republicans objected to the House spending target for programming.

House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Division members struggled for consensus, shuffling money from one fund to another, hoping to preserve jobs and initiatives in both areas before approving the omnibus agriculture, rural economies and veterans affairs finance bill on an 8-5 party-line vote. It awaits action by the House Finance Committee.

With a biennial spending target of $206 million, the bill would allocate $117 million to the Veterans Affairs Department; $73 million to the Department of Agriculture; $10.3 million to the Board of Animal Health and $5.7 million to the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. Its total is approximately $18 million below the governor’s spending recommendation.

While recognizing the “tough spot” the state is in economically, and the overall collegiality of division members, Republicans stuck together in support of the governor’s spending target, and questioned why the House cut agriculture and veterans so deeply, calling it a “political football” to preserve money for health care and human services.

After consideration of nearly 30 amendments, HF1122, sponsored by Division Chairman Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar), amounts were shifted around resulting in more money for veterans affairs than first offered by deferring some ethanol producer payments and initiating cuts to other agriculture-related programming.

“I think you’ve done a good job with the hand you are dealt,” said Rep. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton), the division’s Republican lead. “No one in the room wants to cut ag, and no one wants to cut vets. It’s not that we don’t respect you guys on other side, it is a basic philosophy difference, and I don’t think I will be able to support the bill.”

As amended, General Fund spending includes:

• $85.8 million for the Veterans Homes Special Revenue Account;

• $13.6 million for department of agriculture administration and grant assistance; and

• $9.5 million for agriculture marketing and development initiatives, including Minnesota Grown promotions.

Members concerned about what they called “severe” cuts to the veterans homes were successful in amending the bill to ensure enough money for increased food and pharmaceutical costs. The Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans was successful in seeing its base funding restored for one year to help assist homeless veterans.

The bill’s companion, SF1779, sponsored by Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy), awaits action by the Senate Finance Committee.

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