Saint Paul, MINN—On Thursday, May 3, 2018, the House passed a supplemental budget (SF3656) for State Government, Agriculture, Environment and Jobs on a bipartisan vote of 77-49.
The State Government Finance portion of the legislation includes funding for three new veterans homes, Metropolitan Council reforms, and improvements to state cybersecurity. The plan also reduces state government spending by $7 million through efficiencies and cost-saving measures in state agencies.
“First and foremost, we put excess Vikings stadium funds to better use by addressing the needs of veterans who fought for our freedom," said Representative Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, Chair of the House State Government Finance Committee. “Besides taking care of our veterans, we provide a safe haven for victims of sexual harassment, improve state cybersecurity, protect taxpayers and bring transparency to state government. Our bill places citizens above bureaucracy. I am pleased to see it approved by the House today.”
The plan prioritizes veterans by providing $26 million in funding for the construction of three veterans homes in Preston, Bemidji, and Montevideo using excess funds from the Stadium Reserve Account. In addition, the bill also addresses issues surrounding cybersecurity in state government by requiring state agencies to dedicate 3.5 percent of their IT spending to cybersecurity efforts. Aiming to reform the Metropolitan Council and increase their accountability and transparency, the bill also overhauls the Met Council’s makeup of unelected members by adding local elected officials to the Council, staggering their terms and eliminating the Transportation Advisory Board. Finally, the legislation meets Governor Dayton's recommendation by establishing and funding a sexual harassment office to ensure government employees are treated fairly if they are sexually harassed at work.
In an effort to better meet the needs of the agriculture community, the supplemental agriculture finance bill allocates approximately $35 million to a number of programs that will assist Minnesota’s farmers. Highlights include providing $35 million in bonding revenue for farmer loans through Rural Finance Authority; $217,000 for additional mental health counseling specifically tailored to farm families and other rural professionals and $30,000 for farm advocate services. It also requires nitrogen fertilizer rules proposed by the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to have legislative approval and extends the Agriculture Fertilizer Research and Education Council (AFREC) by ten years in order to fund long-term research aimed to reduce inputs, improve soil health and preserve water quality.
“Two of the top requests we heard from farmers and other ag leaders this year centered on providing more opportunities for low interest loans and to help address mental health issues in the farming community, and I’m pleased were able to respond to these needs,” said State Representative Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, who chairs the House Agriculture Policy Committee.
Next, the Environment portion of the bill dedicates $750,000 to combat Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) which affects Minnesota’s deer, elk and moose populations. It also reinforces our state’s commitment to outdoor recreation, investing a greater portion of the revenue from deer hunting licenses to the Deer Management Account, supporting additional resources for ATV and snowmobile trails in Minnesota, and closing loopholes in law regarding ATV and snowmobile operation for those who have been convicted of a DWI. Finally, the bill brings greater oversight to state agencies, including sending the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency back to the drawing board on their unworkable 10 mg/L sulfate standard for wild rice.
“In our committee, we worked hard to put together a commonsense proposal that will work for folks from Roseau to Rochester,” said Rep. Dan Fabian, R-Roseau, who chairs the House Environment and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. “We’re doing more to monitor our deer herds and combat CWD which is important to our hunters. We’re also pushing back against state agency overreach, working to find a solution on the wild rice sulfate standard that protects our environment while also better serving municipalities and employers in Greater Minnesota.”
Lastly, the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Omnibus component of the bill combines supplemental appropriations for a number of state agencies related to economic development, energy and housing. Included is $15 million for rural broadband development grants, a nation-leading proposal supporting the Prairie Island Indian Community’s efforts to become a net-zero energy community, initiatives to lower energy costs for ratepayers, job training grants, and other programs and grants to help small-business startups.
“In addition to lowering energy costs for ratepayers, this bill funds important initiatives to develop clean energy programs, provides for more affordable housing options, and funding for job training programs to help Minnesotans develop the skills needed for a world-class workforce,” said Rep. Pat Garofalo, R- Farmington, Chair of the Job Growth and Energy Affordability Policy and Finance Committee. “I look forward to working with Governor Dayton and the administration to come to final agreement on a package that we can all support.”