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Reduction may mean new programs

Published (4/25/2008)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Although there’s no official agreement on how the $935 million biennial deficit will be solved, that didn’t stop a House-Senate working group from coming to consensus April 22 on funding priorities for the Military Affairs, Agriculture and Veterans Affairs departments.

“We just thought it best to move ahead,” said Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar), chairman of the House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Division. “We think the quicker we can move this onto their desk the less likely it is they’ll ask us to revisit stuff.”

The House and Senate Agriculture and Veterans Working Group, led by Juhnke and Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy), did not take official action, but informally agreed on budget suggestions and referred them to the conference committee discussing HF1812, the omnibus supplemental budget bill.

The governor has proposed more than $6 million in combined biennial spending increases for the three departments. Through reallocation of some funds, the House and Senate proposal would actually cut more than $2 million from the budgets during the same period, while at the same time allocating money for some new programming.

The greatest reduction, $10.25 million, comes from a 2007 appropriation for higher education assistance grants to state veterans. Little of the money has been used because the federal government stepped in to fill gaps in the education assistance available through the G.I. Bill, which the state’s program would have addressed.

No new money is allocated for Fiscal Year 2008. New allocations for Fiscal Year 2009 would include:

• $3 million to meet veterans emergency financial needs through the State Soldiers Assistance Fund;

• $2 million for a new livestock investment grant program;

• $1 million for a new community-based casework services program that could include in-home counseling; and

• $250,000 for a study to explore alternative models for the Minneapolis veterans home and ways to partner for home-based services for veterans.

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