Rotunda Ramblings: Ag Finance Bill Passes Final Committee

The House Ways and Means committee heard the Ag Finance bill this week. Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, as author of the bill, amended it in several ways. The budget target set by House Republican leadership was increased by almost $11 million for the bill, but little was gained relative to the size of the Ag Coalition request for Ag research, Rapid Response and Farm Business Management funding.

House Republicans continue putting their efforts behind tax considerations rather than spending measures. In a future Rotunda Ramblings post, discussion will follow that would provide a reasonable scenario that would result in no Tax bill being passed in the session finale. That could change things a great deal.

The budget target was increased in part because of a meeting with the Speaker of the House and Agri-Growth Council Executive Director Perry Aasness and Agri-Growth board member Tom Rosen. They represented the Ag Coalition in expressing displeasure with the conservative size of the original target for the bill.

Because of the original target allocation, the bill, as presented to the House Ag Finance committee, contained a collective total of $10 million for three priority items requested by the Ag Coalition. This compares to the request, which was $39 million covering research, Farm Business Management and Rapid Response for crop and livestock disease. During the Ag Finance committee hearing, Rep. Hamilton yielded to two amendments by DFL lead Rep. Rick Hansen, St. Paul. The amendments reduced the coalition funding request even further to under $8 million.

Rep. Hansen has been a strong opponent to the funding and the producer board that governed the distribution of the funding. The governing board, as introduced, was comprised of representation from each commodity group and a representative from  Minnesota Farm Bureau and Minnesota Farmers Union. The board would have set priorities for the fund distribution.

 The Land Stewardship Project has also been in strong opposition to the board even after Rep. Hamilton agreed to add two seats representing organic farmers and environmentalists to the producer board. None of the olive branches to the opposition bore any fruit as several DFL members continued to oppose the bill. A Minneapolis Tribune editorial, appeared a few days later also opposing the producer board.

During the Ways and Means hearing Rep. Hamilton amended the bill to eliminate the producer board and instead give the responsibility for the distribution of the funds to the Commissioner of Agriculture. The commissioner would be required to convene a non-binding advisory board to make recommendations. This would be approximately the same process that distributes the $20 million Agri Fund. 

During the Ways and Means committee hearing the funding allocation was restored to the $10 million figure identified prior to the Hansen cut that had been agreed to by Rep. Hamilton. The rest of the $11 million target increase was used to restore other cuts in the bill including AURI funding and Agri Fund funding.

The bill will go to the floor sometime in the next several days. A conference committee will follow where the Senate DFL has presented a larger funded bill.