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Senators OK ag bill with eye on Dayton signing it

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's agriculture industry takes a $10 million hit in a Senate-passed agriculture funding bill.

Senators passed the bill 39-25 Monday, with a few Democrats joining Republicans. The bill would spend $77 million in the next two years. Senate Agriculture Chairman Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said he thinks the bill could earn Gov. Mark Dayton's support.

Magnus and Agriculture Commissioner David Frederickson met Friday afternoon to modify the Senate bill in an attempt to find compromises. A Magnus amendment that passed was drawn up, in part, to satisfy Dayton.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, complained that changes should not be done by the full Senate because interested groups would not have a chance to testify as they would in a committee hearing.

The Magnus amendment cut fees paid to ethanol producers by $1.3 million. That money was added so senators could remove a food-inspector fee in the original bill as well as providing more funds to an energy board.

The added funds would allow the Agriculture Department to hire more food inspectors.

The $1.3 million was to be paid to an ethanol plant that now does not qualify, Magnus said. It was money for ethanol producers that has been delayed since 2003.

Ethanol payments always have been a controversial part of ag spending, and often have been raided when money was needed to balance the budget. The payments were established to encourage the corn-based fuel, and they are about to end.

The original bill trimmed $780,000 from the Crookston-based Agriculture Utilization Research Institute, but Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls, convinced his colleagues to restore $500,000 to spend about $5 million.

The House has not acted on its version of the ag bill. The Senate action was the first budget bill to pass either chamber this year.

DFL Sens. Kubly, LeRoy Stumpf of Plummer and Tom Saxhaug of Grand Rapids joined Republicans in supporting the bill.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.