The argument over whether to cinch belts or raise revenue has been underway in meeting rooms across the Capitol since last week.
Tuesday evening was no exception, even as House and Senate conferees came to the table in an apparently congenial mood to tackle the omnibus agriculture, food and housing finance bill.
Conference committee co-chairs Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) and Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) are tasked with reconciling one of the smaller legislative budget packages, yet still face a nearly $73 million divide.
The task may be made simpler by legislative leadership’s decision to move one of the more contentious topics to another conference committee to better align House and Senate bills. Items related to chronic wasting disease, the fatal neurological disease effecting cervidae (deer, elk, and moose), has been placed with the environment and natural resources conference committee.
Westrom and Poppe both express a desire to continue monitoring how farmed cervidae provisions fare because oversight of livestock is the responsibility of the Board of Animal Health, which is funded through the agriculture bill.
“We want a balanced approach to this issue,” Westrom said, as Poppe nodded in agreement.
Conferees received an overview of proposed budget and policy provisions Tuesday, and are expected to go through House- or Senate-specific provisions Wednesday afternoon and hear from agency directors.
Westrom said the committee will then start with same or similar provisions before working incrementally toward areas with larger division.
That should place provisions relating to grain buyers and grain storage facilities early in the lineup, with differences characterized by Senate analyst Greg Knopf as stylistic in nature rather than substantive.
Likewise, the two bodies are already in agreement over funding to reimburse the University of Minnesota for the expense of making determinations in wolf depredation cases.
Budget proposals for the two bodies and Gov. Tim Walz are also relatively close for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute and the Board of Animal Health, with budgets differing by less than $7,000 and $1.24 million respectively.
Earmarked provisions are a likely stumbling block for Department of Agriculture spending, with the House offering an extensive list of riders and the Senate seeking to move spending related to noxious weed control to the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund budget.
Spending proposals also vary broadly for housing and broadband.