Work continues this week in St. Paul. On Monday, we approved legislation to replenish the Rural Finance Authority account. The RFA partners with local lenders to make agriculture-related loans. The RFA fund currently is fully deployed.
With the infusion of $35 million in new funds, the backlog of loan applications can now be cleaned up. The RFA account is user-funded. Taxpayer money is loaned to the account through bonding and paid back with revenue received as the agriculture loans are repaid.
Tuesday we worked on a bill that would establish a dedicated maintenance account to provide annual payments to local governments for lost property tax revenue when land is purchased with Outdoor Heritage funds. When the state purchases private property, a portion of the closing costs would include a deposit into a long-term maintenance account.
Local taxpayers must continue to provide public services including roads, fire protection, first responder, ambulance and law enforcement support, even though those lands are off the local property tax rolls. This concept has merit and the bill was referred to the House Tax Committee for further review.
Wednesday we received an update on iron mining activities in Minnesota. The industry has made substantial progress in restarting the taconite plants that were closed due to foreign steel flooding our domestic market. The overall outlook is good, however there still are impediments to returning to full production.
Regulatory uncertainty is a major concern. Companies are looking to make huge investments to upgrade the type of taconite pellets they produce. We need regulatory certainty to minimize the risk that changing environmental standards will not prematurely force these plants into obsolescence.
Thursday we moved forward a bill to provide $5 million for state wetland banks. The banks provide wetland mitigation credits at no cost to counties, townships and small cities when they must disturb wetland for road construction. Four regional wetland banks are currently without credits, so this effort must move forward quickly so 2017 local road projects are not stymied.
Friday I was back in the district and met with the staff at Essentia Health’s Brainerd hospital to discuss healthcare issues. They provided an excellent insight into the serious problems our local communities face in delivering mental-health services.
As always, I welcome your suggestions and feedback.