Minnesota Corn Growers Association
By Amanda Bilek, Senior Public Policy Director, Minnesota Corn Growers Association
The Minnesota legislature convened for its 92nd legislative session on Tuesday. As with many things last year, the Minnesota Legislative Session will not be the same as previous sessions.
The House of Representatives plans to conduct most of its business (committee hearings, floor meetings, and one-on-one meetings) remotely. Floor sessions are only attended to a limited extent by members, with most members voting remotely.
The Senate will use a hybrid approach to conduct its business. Committee meetings can be attended in person by members, and there is a remote option for senators and prospective auditors. Most of the legislature's activity is streamed, and access to the Capitol grounds and office buildings is largely closed to the public unless changes are made to Capitol operations later in the session. Despite these mixed dynamics, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) will advocate important priorities on behalf of Minnesota corn growers.
After the 2020 elections, the Democrats, with 70 members and 64 Republican members, will retain a majority in the MN House of Representatives. The caucus leadership is unchanged from the previous session, with Rep. Melissa Hortman (Brooklyn Park) leading the Democratic caucus and Rep. Kurt Daudt (Crown) leading the Republican caucus.
In the Senate, Republicans retained their majority with 34 members, and Senate Democrats have 31 members. The two remaining members of the Chamber, Senators Bakk (Cook) and Tomassoni (Chisholm), formed an independent caucus after the November election that made up for the Senate for the 92nd session 34-31-2 and a very interesting dynamic Session established for the upcoming session.
Minnesota lawmakers enter session 92 with full boards and the challenge of performing critical work in a largely virtual environment. In addition to responding to the COVID-19 pandemic and the necessary economic recovery, the main work of the session will be to adopt a new state budget, known as the biennium, for the next two years. A November forecast by Minnesota Management and Budget projected a budget deficit of $ 1.3 billion. An updated forecast will be available in February, which will be used to compile the budget.
Last year, at the MN Ag Expo, MCGA launched the Better Fuel Initiative, which aims to build a future of better fuels for all Minnesotans. Our top legislative priority for the 2021 session is increasing the existing biofuel standard by 10 to 15 percent for most of the gasoline sold in Minnesota. As corn growers, we know that the increasing use of biofuels in our transportation fuels gives consumers higher octane ratings, lower costs, and lower tailpipe emissions, and supports biofuel producers in rural communities.
In the last session, MCGA worked with lawmakers to introduce and advance bill. In this session we will work on it again. The 15 percent biofuel standard, or statewide E15, is also supported in a number of recommendations from a diverse group of stakeholders that made up the Governor's Council on Biofuels. In the final report, it was agreed that moving from a 10 percent ethanol minimum to 15 percent would be a short-term policy priority for Minnesota to make progress towards the Minnesota goal of 25 percent oil replacement by 2030.
The introduction of tax breaks for farmers is another key priority of this session. With the Buffer Act passed in 2015, Minnesota corn farmers invested significant amounts of time and money in bringing their farms into compliance. One problem remains with the law, and that is the need to remove the financial penalty if property taxes continue to be levied at the highest rates on arable land that is removed from income-generating crop production when switching to conservation buffers. MCGA supports the introduction of a buffer property tax exemption to address this issue.
MCGA will also focus on protecting fiscal gains from the past few years that have given farmers much-needed economic relief. Ag2School's tax credit provides farmers with important property tax breaks resulting from school bond projects with a gradual increase in the tax credit starting in 2019. MCGA must ensure the incremental increase is reflected in the next Minnesota state budget. Minnesota also fully complied with Section 179 federal tax law on capital goods and expenses during a 2020 special session. Minnesota tax law will continue to be in line with federal law as long as no new changes are made in the next budget period.
Next week's legislative update will address federal priorities when activities resume in Washington. So be sure to stop by again.
Follow the MCGA blog and its social channels (Facebook, Twitter) for updates. You can also follow me on Twitter (@AjBilek).