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Dayton signs first budget bill

ST. PAUL -- Agriculture led the way in Minnesota's budget debate.

Gov. Mark Dayton today signed a bill spending $77 million on agriculture programs for the next two years making some cuts while increasing funding for programs such as food inspections.

Democrat Dayton and Republican legislative leaders cited the ag bill as what can be done if they work together.

The bill spends a tiny fraction of the $34 billion-plus state budget in the next two years and traditionally is a bipartisan effort. The two sides will have a much harder time reaching agreement on the remaining nine budget bills as Dayton wants to raise taxes on the wealthiest Minnesotans while Republicans want to hold the line on spending.

The ag bill signing came three weeks earlier than the first budget bill usually becomes law, Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo said. But she and House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, could not say when other budget plans may be finished. All are being negotiated by the House and Senate, and Dayton says that once lawmakers reach a final agreement he will enter the talks.

Senate Agriculture Chairman Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, pointed out that the ag bill is the first Senate Republican-written budget bill to become law in decades. Democrats controlled the Senate for the past 38 years and for decades before that lawmakers were not elected with party labels.

"It is a good day for Minnesota agriculture," Magnus said as Republicans, Democrats and leaders of the state's two largest farm organizations joined Dayton and legislators for the bill signing.

"It exemplifies the willingness to compromise that you need in politics," added Sen. Gary Kubly, DFL-Granite Falls.

The bill cuts the Agriculture Department's budget 5 percent as lawmakers and Dayton look to ways to fill a $5 billion state budget deficit. And it spends $13 million to finish payments made for more than a dozen years to ethanol producers.

Also, food safety inspection funding will be increased, as will inspections of anhydrous ammonia storage tanks.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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.