Minnesota Republicans want no part of ag budget bill they say is wasteful
ST. PAUL — Republican lawmakers said an environment and agriculture budget bill the House approved 69-61 Thursday is loaded with too-high fees and wasteful spending.
“This agriculture and environment finance proposal is loaded with staggering fee increases that will impact hardworking taxpayers in every income bracket,” said Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings.
Bill author Rep. Jean Wagenius, DFL-Minneapolis, said the money will help manage water issues throughout the state, stem the spread of invasive species and fund agriculture programs.
“These fees are not nearly as damaging as has been indicated, and in fact are needed and they’re necessary to protect our air and water and the health and safety of the people,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township.
A major concern among many lawmakers was water usage fee increases. They would add up to between about 75 cents and $4 a year for a household and about $2 to $6 per acre for the average farmer, said Wagenius, the House Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture Finance Committee chairwoman.
That would raise about $6.1 million a year.
“Farmers are facing substantial increases in this bill when it comes to water and fees,” said Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake.
Democrats argued that the money is needed to protect water in the state and that funding and resources have lagged in the past.
“We’ve all assumed the water in our state is an infinite resource,” Wagenius said, “but our water, particularly our water underground, has its limits, and we’re seeing those limits right now.”
Those who opposed the overall bill said it would negatively affect homeowners, businesses and especially farmers. They pointed to permitting, mining and other fee increases, saying they would add up and negatively affect Minnesotans.
“This bill really increases fees on a lot of people, a lot of businesses,” said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck.
Some said the budget plan could push companies out of Minnesota.
“The fees in this bill give small businesses just one more reason to relocate to North Dakota,” said Rep. Deb Kiel, R-Crookston.
Democrats said the bill should show they understand the importance of rural Minnesota.
“It confirms the priorities of the DFL majority to make strong investments in agriculture that will benefit our farmers and our entire state,” said House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.
The bill would allot $67 million for the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, about $4.76 billion for the Department of Natural Resources and about $1.7 billion for the Pollution Control Agency, among other departments.