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Ag, vets funding gets trim (new law)

Published (5/29/2009)
By Lee Ann Schutz
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Receiving overwhelming support in the House and Senate, the omnibus agriculture and veterans affairs finance law received nearly full support from the governor.

“We had two goals with the bill: preserve jobs and protect core services,” said Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar), who sponsors the law with Sen. Jim Vickerman (DFL-Tracy). Although the law came in a little under Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposed budget target, the state’s top official trimmed $130,000 with two line-item vetoes.

For the 2010-2011 biennium, the law appropriates approximately $116.8 million to the Veterans Affairs Department, $75 million to the Department of Agriculture, $41.7 million to the Military Affairs Department, $10.4 million to the Board of Animal Health and $5.6 million for the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute. Most of the law is effective July 1, 2009.

Although the governor’s budget proposed no cuts to the Veterans Affairs and Military Affairs departments, it was the Agriculture Department funding that had to be shifted around to provide more money for veterans affairs. This was accomplished largely by deferring some ethanol producer payments.

Pawlenty red-lined $100,000 in sustainable agriculture grants from the law. The amount would have been available in each of the two years of the biennium. However, his veto eliminates the funding for the second year. “The remaining $100,000 will allow the department to fund the most worthy projects,” he wrote.

Also nixed was a $30,000 appropriation for the development of a star farms program, which would have recognized farms meeting certain criteria. “While the development of such a program may have merit, it does not rise to the level of a top priority considering the state’s budget situation,” Pawlenty wrote in his veto letter.

Biennial funding proposals in the law include:

• $87.5 million for use by the state’s five veterans homes;

• $23.6 million for Minnesota National Guard enlistment incentives;

• $9.4 million for agriculture marketing and development, including grants for the Minnesota Grown promotion;

• $1 million to Second Harvest Heartland for purchase of milk for distribution to Minnesota food shelves; and

• $282,000 to help the veterans homes receive Medicare certification.

Policy provisions in the law include:

• the ability to seek tenants for vacant or unused space in the Orville L. Freeman Office Building in St. Paul, which houses the Agriculture and Health departments;

• a green jobs food production study and report is called for to identify green job opportunities relating to various farming methods, including organic, local, conventional and urban farming;

• new regulations on the sale and distribution of agricultural pesticides, including modifications to the fee schedule;

• establishment of a Noxious Weed Advisory Committee to advise the commissioner concerning the noxious weed control program;

• veteran designation availability on a Minnesota Driver’s License or state identification card; and

• extending interviews to qualifying veterans who apply for state employment and a mandated annual report, beginning in 2011, containing data regarding number of veterans employed by state agencies.


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