The biggest news from the House floor this week is that we approved legislation to replenish funding for a loan program that is popular among farmers working on start-ups or upgrading their operations.
The bill appropriates $35 million to the Rural Finance Authority for loans to eligible farmers. These bonds are 100-percent user-financed, meaning the state will be paid back.
RFA funding usually is provided through capital investment packages but, without a bonding bill approved in 2016, loan applications are stacking up with no funding in place to lend.
This program is an important tool and it was necessary for us to act swiftly to ensure funding is available to farmers. More information on RFA programs can be found at www.mda.state.mn.us/agfinance or by calling (651) 201-6556.
Another bill to replenish funds is advancing through the committee process. In this case, it would provide a short-term fix to a wetland mitigation issue so that road construction and other projects can begin this spring.
Minnesota law states that each unit of wetland taken up by construction must be replaced by two other units being categorized as wetlands. But, as with the RFA issue, funding died on the vine with last year’s bonding bill, hindering compliance. Three of Minnesota’s five wetland banks now sit empty so credits may be unavailable when the spring construction season arrives.
The bill that is moving through the House would provide a $5 million infusion to help in the short term by allowing transactions to take place. More funding is needed to make this program whole, but this bill is a bridge to when additional funding could be considered with a bonding package this spring. The bill, H.F. 431, is a cousin of H.F. 341, which I authored this year.
I mentioned last week that a bill of mine would exempt resorts from paying state sales taxes to complete upgrades to their facilities. The bill received good, bipartisan support in a committee hearing this week and remains up for consideration in an omnibus bill later this session.
Lastly, the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor issued a report this week after its investigation into improper use of U.S. Bank Stadium suites controlled by the Minnesota Sports Facilities Authority, including for Vikings games.
The Legislative Auditor’s office determined the MSFA officials violated a core ethical principle, but did not break state law when they gave free tickets to family members and friends. The Legislative Auditor recommends the Legislature exercise stronger control over the MSFA and, specifically, its use of complimentary tickets to stadium events. House proposals are being offered to help in that regard by revamping the appointments to the MSFA and increasing transparency and accountability to the Legislature.
I will pass along more news as these and other subjects develop.