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Published March 13, 2010, 12:00 AM

Agriculture struggles showcase budget problems

ST. PAUL – Members of the Minnesota House agriculture finance committee have been looking through their budget for potential cuts.

By: Don Davis, Forum News Service, INFORUM

ST. PAUL – Members of the Minnesota House agriculture finance committee have been looking through their budget for potential cuts.

For instance, they decided to reduce what the state pays to the Minnesota Livestock Breeder Association by $1,000, practically nothing compared to the state’s $31 billion, two-year budget.

As state lawmakers struggle to plug a nearly $1 billion gap, they are looking everywhere.

The committee, which also deals with veterans’ issues, has one of the smallest budgets, $208 million. Gov. Tim Pawlenty and most lawmakers pledge not to reduce veterans’ spending, so the committee’s spending-reduction goal all comes from agriculture programs.

“We are trying our darnedest in this difficult time to continue core services,” committee Chairman Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said, like making minimal cuts to programs such as food inspection.

But Juhnke said agriculture cuts do not affect everyone the same.

“In the ag budget, almost everything being cut is in rural Minnesota,” he said.

Particularly noticeable is the delay of $2.3 million in payments to ethanol producers. The money, promised more than 10 years ago, is to be paid in the next two-year budget cycle, but the delay helps balance the current budget.

Total House agriculture cuts are $5.9 million, 6.7 percent of the ag budget.

While Juhnke and other rural lawmakers complain that is a larger percentage reduction than many other departments face, it illustrates the problem lawmakers are tackling throughout state government.

Legislators in 2009 approved the two-year budget that began last July 1. But the continuing has kept revenues lower than expected. Much of the 2010 legislative session is devoted to tweaking the budget so it is balanced, as the state constitution requires.

In the next few days, the Senate Finance Committee and House Ways and Means Committee are expected to finish the first of three bills to cut state spending. The first would cut $313 million and could be in front of the full House and Senate within a week.


Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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