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Ag department budget stays stable in governor's proposal

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 03/15/2013 10:24 AM

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ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton's proposed budget for the state agriculture department doesn't include any reductions.

"Our budget, the department budget, is very farmer-friendly," said Dave Frederickson, Minnesota's agriculture commissioner.

Frederickson is thankful he didn't have to make reductions under the governor's proposal given that the state has a $1.1 billion deficit and owes $1 billion to schools.

The governor's budget proposal includes an income tax increase on top earners and changes to the state sales tax. The governor proposes to lower the state sales tax to 5.5 percent, but expand it to services that were previously untaxed.

Dayton's proposal continues to exempt farm machinery, farm machinery parts and seed from sales tax, but it extends sales taxes to agronomy, crop consultating, feed consultant services and farm machinery repair labor.

The agriculture department budget includes money from the state's general fund, fees collected for services and money from the Clean Water, Land and Legacy amendment.

Frederickson said he believes that services with statewide impact should be covered by general fund dollars. Much of the funding for the pesticide and fertilizer division comes from fees paid for service.

The governor's recommendation includes additional money for operating the lab shared by the agriculture and health departments because there are additional costs for operating the world-class laboratory.

Budget documents say the increased funding "may result in few challenges to data quality and increased opportunity for federal funding."

Dayton's proposed budget also includes $19.6 million in Legacy dollars for the department, including $3 million targeted to the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program. The federal government has also committed $3 million to this program for this year, Frederickson said.

Other Clean Water Legacy programs include: Protecting groundwater from nitrate contamination, research to quantify agricultural contributions to impaired waters, implementation of best management practices, irrigation water quality protection and pesticide monitoring and assessment.

The Legislature must still approve the Clean Water Legacy funds, but Frederickson is optimistic they will. Previously, the department received about $15 million from the Clean Water Legacy funding, he said.