The Minnesota Legislature is rushing to finish its work before the session ends.
The omnibus budget bill that is being debated in the Senate and House is of special interest. The package — a smorgasbord for rural Minnesota — has great potential for farmers and communities. The budget bill gives priority to value-added agriculture opportunities for farmers and stresses rural broadband expansion.
“This legislation focuses on repurposing existing resources to directly impact the bottom line of Minnesota farm families,’’ said Torrey Westrom, chairman of the Senate’s Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Development Committee.
Westrom, who is the legislation’s co-author, is from Elbow Lake.
The bill would make an investment in the soybean processing and research facility at the University of Minnesota-Crookston; put money in the Dairy Modernization and Investment Program, which targets owners of smaller herds with loans and interest rate assistance; and increases dairy development grants to help producers create updated business plans.
The legislation also offers to increase funding to the state’s border-to-border broadband program to $50 million. Broadband development, which often flies beneath the radar in terms of priorities, continues to have the potential to influence the lives of rural Minnesotans for decades to come.
The $258 million bill has won Senate approval and awaits possible conference action involving the House before the Legislature reaches its May 20 adjournment date.
The Republican-controlled Senate and DFL-controlled House have major differences in priorities involving spending on schools, the amount of any gasoline tax increase and much more.
It is heartening to see that Gov. Tim Walz has consistently preached bipartisan solutions with regards to public policy challenges. Bipartisanship increases the likelihood that meaningful rural property tax reform and more equitable school funding approaches will be found. It also has the potential to create an atmosphere more fertile for health care reform that stops rural residents from having less access to quality care than their urban counterparts.
It is hard to imagine, but members of the state House and Senate were elected without party designation until a 1973 law changed it. Party designation started in the House in 1974 and in the Senate in 1976.
It would benefit state residents if party affiliation became discounted in favor of working across the aisle for the common good. Minnesota has an estimated $1 billion budget surplus. The funds needn’t be spent willy-nilly, but targeted to the people and industries most in need.
The state’s dairy producers are struggling and need a hand to keep alive; so do beginning farmers and others who have seen their net incomes halved by national and international events far beyond their control.
Minnesota’s lawmakers will do everyone good if they come to agreements that serve rural residents and farmers well.