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Lawmakers delve into the numbers

Issue involves state's ethanol mandate

from staff reports

ST. PAUL -- Whose numbers do you trust?

Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview, introduced House File 2045 after listening to debate on the proposal to increase the state's ethanol mandate to 20 percent, Senate File 4.

His bill would provide up to two $50,000 grants in each of the next two fiscal years for universities to conduct engine research with ethanol.

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Welti, who sits on the House ag policy committee, heard testimony from auto makers and other special interest groups when the E20 legislation was discussed. People questioned the data that was provided because most of the research is conducted by groups with a vested interest in the answer.

His hope is that the universities would be able to provide unbiased information about the long-term impacts of ethanol on engines.

The universities would be asked to study engine compatibility, efficiency, corrosion and emissions with the use of ethanol.

Minnesota is a leader in ethanol production, Welti said, it should also be a leader in ethanol promotion.

Minnesota State University-Mankato and the University of Minnesota submitted letters in support of the legislation.

The bill does require matching funds. For every $3 in state funds, $2 in private matching dollars would be needed, Welti said.

The bill passed the House ag policy committee and is awaiting a hearing in the House ag finance committee.

Sen. Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, is carrying the companion legislation in the Senate. Senate File 1893 was heard in the Senate ag finance division and was laid over for inclusion in a Senate omnibus spending bill.

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MIC money

Senate File 1627, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Frederickson, R-New Ulm, which appropriates $50,000 in fiscal years 2006 and 2007 to the Minnesota Inventors Congress, was heard April 14 in the Senate ag finance division and was laid over for possible inclusion in the omnibus spending bill. Its House companion, House File 1651, sponsored by Rep. Marty Seifert, R-Marshall, was heard March 31 in the Jobs and Economic Opportunity Policy and Finance Committee and held over for possible inclusion in an omnibus spending bill.

Peace and harmony

Sen. Steve Dille's resolution making 2005 the year the feedlot war ends in Minnesota was amended April 18 and referred to the rules and administration committee.

The resolution recognizes the economic contribution of livestock to the state's economy, and calls for all Minnesotans to adopt a respectful, encouraging and appreciative attitude toward Minnesota livestock farmers.

The companion resolution in the House is being carried by Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. The bill was heard in the House ag policy committee on April 12 and sent to the ag finance committee.

Budget debate

Minnesota's budget debate got murkier and pricklier last week when the Senate DFL leadership outlined millions of dollars in new state government spending -- the exact amount was up for debate -- without saying how they'd pay for it.

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It started with an announcement by Senate Majority Leader Dean Johnson that his caucus would seek $1 billion in spending above what Minnesota devotes now to schools, subsidized health care, early childhood programs, public safety and other budget categories.

He adopted a don't-ask-won't-tell posture when reporters pressed him on tax increases that would be needed to fund the spending.

By day's end, the Department of Finance calculated the new spending at $3 billion higher than the current two-year budget and as much as $1.4 billion more than Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty proposed for 2006-07.

Almost lost in the back and forth is the shrinking timeline for passing a state budget.

The 2005 session must adjourn by May 23 and a new budget is needed to keep government running beyond June 30.

The Senate spending bills are expected to reach the Senate floor by early May. The tax increases won't become clear for another couple of weeks, Johnson said.

Bill introductions

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, introduced Senate File 2234 that requires school milk be provided in single-serve plastic containers. The bill was sent to the education committee.

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, introduced Senate File 2237 to provide for the construction, reconstruction or maintenance of town roads used by livestock operations.

The bill was referred to the transportation committee.

Rep. Andy Welti, DFL-Plainview, introduced House File 2257, which provides an income tax credit for producers when they hire private firms to do feedlot technical assistance.

In Congress

Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., introduced the Keep Manufacturing and Farming Jobs in the United States Act with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to slow the demand for natural gas by improving efficiency and increasing production. Johnson also introduced the renewable fuels standard program beginning with 4 billion gallons in 2006 and culminating in 8 billion gallons in 2012.

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