Anna Boroff, MCGA Public Policy Director.
Written by Anna Boroff
Minnesota Corn Growers Association Policy Director
We’re less than a week away (supposedly) from the end of the Minnesota legislative session. But who’s counting?
This week’s legislative update includes all of the usual state updates, as well as updates from the federal side. Almost 1,000 words of wonky ag policy discussion for you to peruse as you finish up planting!
Agriculture groups, including the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA), continue working with the governor’s office and legislators on the buffer issue. I wish I had more to report at this time, but stay tuned. We’ll provide a more in-depth buffer update when there is more to report.
House omnibus ag finance bill
MCGA priority items that were included in the omnibus House ag finance bill passed last week are as follows:
- Production incentives for biofuels, biochemicals and biomass thermal as proposed by a coalition supporting the Bioeconomy bill (listen to a radio interview on the Bioeconomy bill here). This is one-time funding of $1.7 million for fiscal year 2016 and 2017. The Senate version calls for $5 million, which would come from existing AGRI funds at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.
- An agriculture research, education, extension and technology transfer board is formed to award $8 million in funding for ag productivity research. The Senate version includes about $14 million.
- A livestock study to identify the cause of growth or decline of poultry and livestock production in the upper Midwest, including the impact of nuisance conditions and lawsuits filed against poultry or livestock farms.
- Critical funding for avian influenza and wolf depredation was also included.
What’s next? Now that both the House and Senate have ag finance bills, it heads to conference committee so the differences can be hashed out. Since the Senate and House structures are different when it comes to ag, environment natural resources and economic development, there will be two different conference committees.
More can be read about the omnibus House ag finance bill here.
The House and Senate tax bills have two different proposals in order to address concerns about farmers incurring too much of the cost on school district bonded construction projects.
- The House version includes a property tax credit on all ag property which is 50 percent of the tax on the property attributed to school district bonded debt levies. Basically, farmers would get a refund of half from the state. The refund would come from the state so the burden isn’t shifted onto others in the local community, but spread over the entire tax base.
- In the Senate, property classified in whole or part as 2a ag property is eligible for a credit if the property taxes paid on that portion of the property increase by more than 8 percent over the property taxes payable in the prior year on the property, and if the amount of the increase is $200 or more. The amount of the credit then would be the amount of the increase over the greatest of 8 percent of the prior year’s property taxes, or $200, with a max credit of $2,000.
- There’s also a study in the Senate version that requires the Minnesota Departments of Agriculture and Revenue to conduct a study examining valuing ag land for property tax purposes based on the value of ag commodities produced minus the cost of production.
- I understand that this can be a confusing issue, especially the Senate language. If you have further questions, please contact me and I’d be happy to try and answer them.
The House version of the transportation bill uses existing funding to boost spending on roads and bridges. This would be accomplished by re-purposing existing sales taxes on transportation-related items that currently go into the general fund, as well as using a portion of the surplus.
The Senate version uses a new 6.5 percent gross receipts tax in addition to the existing gas tax (28.5 cents). Basically, the gross receipts tax would charge an additional 16 cents per gallon until pump prices hit $2.50 per gallon. When gas prices rise above that level, the receipts tax is then 6.5 percent of the overall prices at the pump. The percentage would change annually, depending on the average price per gallon at the pump from the previous year.
Trade Promotion Authority
On the federal side, the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) will receive a couple more weeks of debate. MCGA supports passing TPA, which is an authority given from Congress to the President to negotiate trade agreements and submit them to Congress for an up or down vote without amendments. Passing TPA allows the ag sector to compete on a level playing field in a global market. If you haven’t already, please reach out to our two senators and your congressman to encourage them to pass TPA as quickly as possible.
Waters of the United States
Look for the House to vote on the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) bill this week. The bill would force the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to withdraw its current WOTUS rule and come up with a new one that would require input from stakeholders and state/local governments.
A bi-partisan group in the Senate introduced legislation last week requiring EPA to withdraw current rulemaking on WOTUS and start over.
President Obama issued a formal State of Administration Policy on the bill, saying, “The Administration strongly opposes” any effort to force EPA to withdraw its 2014 WOTUS rulemaking. “If the President were (sic) presented with (the bill), his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”
Later this month the House Energy and Commerce committee is expected to hear a bill supported by MCGA and the National Corn Growers Association that would create a federal solution to the issue of labeling GMO foods. The bill would require the Food & Drug Administration to review all genetically modified ingredients, define “natural,” and set up a voluntary certification process for those who wish to label foods non-GMO.
This is a bi-partisan bill that would trump state authority and develop a uniform, federal standard for GMO labeling instead of a confusing state-by-state process.