Agriculture Committee work takes shape

Published 7:45 am Sunday, January 20, 2013

Column: Senate Report, by Dan Sparks

This week’s legislative action in the Senate primarily took place in committees, where members reviewed high level summaries that will inform their discussions as each committee prepares to make decisions about various appropriations in its respective budget area.

Dan Sparks

With the state facing another billion dollar deficit, it is clear even in the most early budget discussions that we will need to take a balanced approach — including reforms to both sides of the spending and revenue equation — to resolve our budget problems.

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Next week will bring the release of the governor’s budget proposal, which the Legislature will have an opportunity to review as we work toward passing an honest budget that does not rely on short-term accounting tricks or borrowing from our future. We are eager to work with the governor and our colleagues in the Legislature from both sides of the aisle to deliver results for Minnesota families.

Senate Jobs, Agriculture and Rural Development Committee, which I chair, visited the Minnesota Department of Agriculture to discuss agriculture policy with Commissioner David Frederickson. We were able to tour the department’s laboratories, which have been nationally recognized for the work they do in food and water safety.

The Minnesota Pork Producers were in Minneapolis for the annual Pork Congress. I participated in a panel discussion at the event with other legislative leaders. We heard from audience members and answered questions about a wide range of issues. It was a productive meeting that generated thoughts on legislation that I will be looking at this session.

A top priority will be to protect money in the agri-fund from being raided for non-agricultural proposes as the budget is put together this session. I want to work on strengthening ag education, both through funding to our local K-12 system and by supporting farm business management programs at Minnesota State Colleges and Universities institutions.

Riverland Community College is one of the shining examples of how this program should work. Extensions of farmer-lender mediation and Minnesota Agriculture Education Leadership Council, and cleanup language for the $5 million exemption to the estate tax for farmland that was passed in the last budget should also be addressed.

One tax issue I would like to work on is conforming to the federal tax code on “accelerated” depreciation. At a time when many farmers are able, we should be using the tax code to encourage investments in capital expenditures that improve your business operations.

If we can’t get to full compliance I am hopeful that we can at least move the bar to support growth in our rural economy.

We will have the opportunity to look at, and I will be pushing for all opportunities to support our state and local economies this session. I am staying contacted to local employers on issues that affect their businesses so I can make informed decisions. Mayo Clinic Health Systems of Albert Lea and Austin and I met on Friday to discuss their top issues for 2013.

In the weeks ahead and as the budget debate heats up, I would also like to hear from you — please reach out to my office and share your priorities as we work together to move Minnesota forward.


Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, is the state senator for District 27.