By Rep. Paul Anderson
As of this writing, (Monday morning), one week remains in the legislative session. It seems the big question every time we draw near to the finish line is, “Will we finish on time?”
This year is no different, with much left to be done in the final days. Tradition has the Legislature in session all weekend leading up to adjournment, including Sunday, and getting the final touches on the budget process before the mandatory finish at midnight on May 17.
No conference committees have completed their work and, in fact, the joint spending targets for each part of the overall budget have not yet been released. It was hoped these figures would be available last Friday, but were not. Until those numbers are given to the various conference committees, they cannot finish their work.
The governor announced last Friday a timeline for rolling back the remaining covid restrictions still in place. Capacity limits for outdoor events have now been lifted, and mask requirements will no longer be in place except at large venues with over 500 people in attendance. In addition, the mandatory closing time for bars and restaurants has been lifted. On May 28, all remaining distancing requirements will end, with the exception being large events which will still require masking.
No later than July 1, when 70 percent of Minnesotans have had at least one dose of the vaccination, all masking requirements will end. That date could be pushed up considerably earlier because at the current rate, we could hit that 70-percent mark in early June. It’s estimated that, as of last week, 59 percent of Minnesotans had received at least one dose.
Despite all the numbers looking positive, the governor still refuses to give up his emergency declaration. With those powers in place for 14 months already, I think most would agree that the emergency has passed. That could present a stumbling block in negotiations to complete the state budget on time. In addition, questions remain on whether the Legislature or the governor will control the $2.6 billion in COVID-19 aid coming to the state from Washington.
Anybody who has purchased a “two-by-four” piece of lumber lately knows what those prices have done. Dramatic increases in cost and have hit that market, in addition to others, as nearly all commodities have risen to multi-year highs. The price of lumber per thousand board feet is nearly five times higher today than just one year ago. Crude oil prices have risen from $20 per barrel last year to over $65 today. Farm commodities are doing the same, with the price of corn rising from just over $3 per bushel one year ago to over $7 today. Soybeans, which were around $8.50 last year are now priced over $15 per bushel.
My concern with all these huge price increases is that we are seeing a rise in consumer prices, and it's going to continue. The increase in food prices could be substantial as these rising input costs are eventually passed on to the consumer. It’s getting very expensive to feed livestock, as the price of soybean meal and other costs continue going up. If they get too far out of balance, farmers may be forced to cut back on production.
We’ve been in these situations before, the last time was back in 2012 and ’13, and it took several years to re-balance the commodity markets. And with other parts of the world increasing their production, the result here in this country was seven years of low prices and a difficult farm economy.