Throughout the legislative session, MFU worked hard to ensure that the voices of family farmers, ranchers and rural communities were heard at the Capitol. To help policymakers make informed decisions that would help farmers and rural communities, MFU met with legislators and the administration often, wrote letters to legislative committees, testified on priority bills and maintained a steady presence in St. Paul.
On May 25, a $48 billion state budget was finalized after a sprint of a special session. The “omnibus” bills passed – large pieces of legislation that define total spending in broad topic areas – reflect a compromise worked out between Gov. Tim Walz, the DFL-controlled House and the GOP-controlled Senate.
As with any compromise, no one got everything they wanted. However, the budget agreed to by the governor and legislative leaders clearly represents a step forward for Minnesota’s farmers in that it includes several key priorities related to agriculture, taxes and health care.
For agriculture, the finance bill earned broad bipartisan support in both houses (114-14 in the House and 66-0 in the Senate) and advanced several MFU priorities, including:
- Rural mental health / Farm Advocates – $100k increase over two years (one-time) for the Farm & Rural Helpline, $274k over two years to hire another counselor at Minnesota State (in addition to Ted Matthews) and $47k per year increase for MDA Farm Advocates.
- Meat inspections – an additional $150 million/year to address the backlog, particularly in regard to E2 inspections.
- New trade and marketing position – that includes developing new markets for Farm to School at $100k per year.
- Soy Research Facility – $5 million in 2021 as an initial investment in a soy research facility in northwestern MN that could help develop new markets for bean farmers.
- Dairy relief – the ag bill includes $5 million and the jobs bill includes another $3 million for a total of $8 million that will be paid out to farmers upon their enrollment in the new federal Dairy Margin Coverage program.
- New investments in ag emergency preparedness and response, industrial hemp, noxious weed control and other ag priorities.
- One item absent from the bill was funding for Farmers’ Legal Action Group, a priority MFU advocated for and will revisit in future sessions.
In the tax bill, MFU also helped secure wins for farmers, including:
- Ag2School increase – most significantly, the bill includes a phased in 30 percent increase to the school building bond agricultural property tax credit. Once the phase-in is complete in 2023, this will mean that when a capital school construction bond levy is passed, owners of agricultural land will be reimbursed for 70 percent of that levy—a win-win for farmers and rural school districts.
- Section 179 – the bill makes significant moves toward full conformity with Section 179 for equipment expensing (while still retaining the 80 percent add-back).
- Homestead fix – the bill includes a fix to the ag homestead eligibility rules to ensure that families who structure their farm as a dual entity (i.e. the land owned by one party and the farm business by another, usually to help with transitioning to new ownership) still qualify for the ag homestead tax credit.
- Notably, the tax bill did not include compensation for farmers affected by the state’s buffer law, though there were bipartisan efforts on this early in session. MFU will continue to work on this next session.
On health care:
- A critical piece of the budget deal was eliminating the sunset of the provider tax, which is a key source of funding for MinnesotaCare, Medical Assistance, the Statewide Offices of Rural Health and other important programs that make sure people across the state have access to affordable health care. This was a major priority for MFU this session.
- ONECare – the budget deal did not include the governor’s health care buy-in proposal, called ONECare. However, MFU helped build momentum for this plan that will carry over to next session. As part of this effort, MFU President Gary Wertish authored an op-ed with Department of Human Services Commissioner Tony Lourey, and Goodhue County Farmers Union President Deborah Mills was featured in Walz’s State of the State address after she spoke about her health care experiences at a roundtable.
The transportation budget, unfortunately, did not include a significant new dedicated source of funding for roads and bridges, which we will continue to work towards in future sessions.
Other priorities included:
- Forever Green Initiative – $4.3 million to the University of Minnesota to continue development of new perennial crop varieties, the largest state investment to date.
- Broadband – $40 million in new investment for rural broadband development included in the agriculture budget.
- Right to Repair, which would compel manufacturers and dealers to provide equipment owners and independent repair technicians with the means to fix equipment, was introduced in both chambers but came short of earning a vote on the floor.
- Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) were funded at the full $24 million out of the Clean Water Fund but were not granted levy authority.
This is just a summary of what MFU worked on this session. If you’d like more information on MFU’s legislative work, contact Stu at email@example.com or (320) 232-3047. If there’s something you’re particularly passionate about, write it up as a policy resolution for your county convention this fall.
Minnesota Farmers Union
305 Roselawn Ave. E. #200
St. Paul, MN 55117
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