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Peterson, Radatz agree agriculture doing well in Legislature

By Janet Kubat Willette

jkubat@agrinews.com

ST. PAUL — When Thom Petersen sat down to look at his legislative scorecard the other day, he figured agriculture is doing pretty well this legislative session.

But there’s a lot of issues to be resolved before the Legislature adjourns, said Peterson, Minnesota Farmers Union government relations director.

One of them is the governor’s NexGen ethanol proposal, a proposed gas tax increase, and several property tax initiatives.

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The governor’s NexGen ethanol proposal has generated a lot of discussion and is moving along in different pieces, said Chris Radatz, Minnesota Farm Bureau public policy director.

One piece would put in place incentives for electricity generating and transportation fuel, making plants to use gasification technology as their source of energy. There’s also a proposal for producer payments for cellulosic ethanol. A third proposal would set up some type of NexGen board, a group of stakeholders to determine what state incentives are needed to move into cellulosic ethanol.

Atrazine bills are picking up more momentum now than ever before at the Capitol, Petersen said.

Southeastern Minnesota farmer and state Rep. Ken Tschumper, DFL-La Crescent, is carrying four bills dealing with Atrazine. None of the bills ban Atrazine, but they do possibly change the way it’s regulated and monitored in the state.

Radatz said Farm Bureau doesn’t argue with the Atrazine legislation that says Minnesota’s drinking water quality standard for the chemical be set at the same as the federal standard. Officially, the state’s is a little higher now than the federal standard.

However, the Farm Bureau disputes a couple other provisions in Tschumper’s proposal.

One provision says that by Dec. 31, 2007, the Department of Health must set the water quality standard at 1 ppb or lower. The federal standard is 3 ppb.

The third part of the proposal would require a $200,000 study to find the science to prove that the 1 ppb is the right number, Radatz said. Farm Bureau is opposed to the Legislature picking the number and then funding the science to confirm it. Farm Bureau’s stance is that the science should be done first.

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Farm Bureau is also watching legislation that will exempt grain bins and fencing for all livestock from state sales tax. This may be Plan B if the dairy investment tax credit fails, Radatz said.

The expansion to fences and grain bins will save farmers millions of dollars a year, Petersen said.

Both MFU and MFB support a gas tax hike. MFU supports a 10 cent increase in the gas tax, but would prefer to see if phased in over a couple years.

Farm Bureau hasn’t picked a number.

"We do support a gas tax," Radatz said. "We don’t have a number. We support it because that money goes to roads."

Another issue Farm Bureau is watching closely is a House proposal to give agricultural landowners a credit for school debt service levies.

Landowners would be given a 20 percent credit to offset the cost of agricultural land property taxes for school debt service levies, Radatz said. This would not apply to the house, garage and one acre.

The state would pick up the 20 percent tab, so it wouldn’t result in a shift to other property taxpayers in the school district. The credit would include all existing levies as well as those passed after the bill took effect.

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The property tax relief is far from a done deal. The House pays for their property tax relief with a new fourth bracket for income taxpayers. The Senate raises business property taxes. Gov. Tim Pawlenty has vowed to veto any tax increases.

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