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Minnesota Soybean Business

Roaring into the 2020s: MSGA builds priorities, looking to build on wins from 2019

January-February 2020

Five million dollars for the Soy Innovation Campus. Increased funding for rural mental health. Forty million dollars in resources for rural broadband. Tax conformity. Tax cuts. Full funding for AGREET. Blocked further regulations. Protected biodiesel.

Got all that? MSGA rattled off win after win last year for the state’s nearly 28,000 soybean farmers.

“We accomplished nearly legislative priority we set out to achieve in 2019,” says Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) Vice President and advocacy action team chair Mike Skaug, who testified to the legislature about the benefits the Soy Innovation Campus would bring to his native northwest Minnesota. “Everything just seemed to fall into place.”

Yes, indeed, 2019 was a banner year for MSGA at the Capitol in St. Paul.

“Last year was such a successful year at the legislature. It’s really amazing to look back and see all that we accomplished for Minnesota soybean farmers,” says MSGA President Jamie Beyer. “We go into each session with a list of priorities, and not necessarily expecting all of them to get accomplished because that’s just not how government works. So to see us run the table was incredibly gratifying.”

MSGA will most likely encounter more roadblocks in 2020 due to a combination of legislative, budgetary and electoral factors, says MSGA lobbyist Cory Bennett.

“It’s going to be a rough and tumble session,” Bennett says. “Every session has challenges, but with those challenges comes opportunities.”

Minnesota is the only state in the country with a divided legislature. With a contentious election season kicking into high gear, Bennett anticipates partisan gridlock could carry the day during the 2020 legislative session, which convenes Feb. 11, 2020 and is set to conclude no later than May 18. All 201 legislators – 134 members of the house and 67 in the senate – are all up for election and neither side figures to be in a bipartisan spirit.

“Politics is going to become a contact sport this year,” Bennett says.

Bennett expects both sides of the aisle will issue positive, bipartisan tones early in the session before both parties stop playing nice and start digging their heels in.

“They’re going to say all the right things and then I think it’s going to come to a crashing halt,” Bennett says. “It’s going to be a buckle-your-chin-strap type of sessions. A lot is at stake.”

MSGA lobbyist A.J. Duerr says both the house and senate majorities are within grasp for each party; he estimates control of the chambers will depend on the outcomes of about eight tight senate races and between 15 and 20 competitive house seats.

“I can see both bodies going either way,” he says. “Nothing has really changed since the last election – there’s a real urban-rural divide in Minnesota. The battlegrounds are still the same battlegrounds and neither side is going to want to give an inch.”

The forecast

After checking off a plethora of priorities in 2019, Beyer says MSGA’s 2020 wish list is a little more complex.

“This year our issues are more complicated and don’t translate as well in soundbites,” Beyer says.

In December, Minnesota budget officials projected a $1.33 billion budget surplus heading into 2020 Democrats are urging cautioning in investing the money; Republicans, meanwhile, prefer to see the surplus funds returned to taxpayers. Bennett says he expects the legislature to use the forecasted budget surplus to create a supplemental budget.

“The more of a surplus, the more opportunity there might be for a tax bill,” he says. “The February forecast is going to drive the supplemental budget and tax bill.”

MSGA will be advocating for closing off loopholes to Section 179 Conformity throughout the session and during Hill Visits to St. Paul on March 11.

“We’ve heard from farmers who are getting unfairly punished for equipment they’re trading in,” says MSGA Executive Director Joe Smentek. “We’re hoping there’s further conforming to Section 179.”

Bennett doesn’t expect agriculture will be a large focus in the supplemental budget, but funding to combat African Swine Fever may be included. He noted that agriculture contributes 25 percent of the state’s GDP, but only accounts for .4% of the state’s $48 billion biennial budget.

“Since it’s an election year, if there are going to be large dollars spent, it’ll be on taxes, education, bonding and transportation,” he says. “As always, we’re ready to work with any legislator who has like-minded views.”

MSGA will also be underscoring to legislators the need for infrastructure upgrades, biobased road sealant, protecting biodiesel and improving health care access for greater Minnesota. Water quality issues will also be a focal point, along with more funding to eradicate noxious weeds. At the federal level, extending the vital Biodiesel Tax Credit, along with a swift resolution to the China trade war, remain top priorities for both MSGA and the American Soybean Association.

“Health care, especially for those of us in a rural settling who have a lack of opportunities, is of course a huge deal,” says Beyer, a married mother of three who pays more than $30,000 in health insurance. “The cost is just insane, as many farmers know.”

In an election year, it’s only a matter of time before the gloves come off. But MSGA will be ready

“We got a lot of passed last year and there may not be as many chances to hit home runs this year,” Smentek says. “We’re going to focus on fixing and clarifying policies that could have a significant impact for farmers.”

 

 

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