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Cuts a prelude to future

Published (3/11/2010)
By Patty Ostberg
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The House Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Division approved $6.9 million in supplemental budget reductions for the current biennium March 11.

Sponsored by Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar), the division chairman, HF3438 would cut 7.9 percent from General Fund appropriations to the Department of Agriculture, Board of Animal Health and the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute, and defer ethanol producer payments. Veterans would receive a 0.2 percent increase for military funeral honor guard funding, homeless veterans’ grants and veterans’ homes.

The governor proposes $5.8 million in agriculture cuts, with a 1.6 percent increase for veterans. The House veterans’ percentage takes into account previous year’s funding for programs and expected savings from veteran’s homes, such as Medicare coverage for prescription drugs.

The bill would eliminate funding for invasive species programs, including gypsy moth and emerald ash borer. Juhnke said the Department of Agriculture should be responsible for prevention of species entering the state, and the Department of Natural Resources should be responsible for the eradication of species.

Agriculture is taking a large cut considering it is a small percentage of the state’s overall budget, Juhnke said. “Remember the agriculture budget only accounts for about one-half of 1 percent of the state budget, yet I remind people every day we’re about 20 percent of the state’s gross national product. So they’re getting a pretty darn good return on the money for the investment we make into agriculture… These cuts are minor compared to what’s coming next year,” he said.

Rep. Doug Magnus (R-Slayton) said he supports the bill’s reductions, but can’t support its approval without knowing what cuts are being suggested in other areas of the state budget. “I want to see all the cards on the table. … We know we’ve gotta have reductions here, but we know we gotta do what we can to protect the largest industry in the state, too.”

The bill now goes to the House Finance Committee. There is no Senate companion.

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