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Greater Minnesota leaders do not celebrate legislative session

ST. PAUL--Greater Minnesota leaders who followed the 2018 Minnesota Legislature say they have little to celebrate, so far at least. "The best thing about today is that we are one day closer to Jan. 8, when the Legislature will reconvene in St. Pa...

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President Kevin Paap of the Minnesota Farm Bureau speaks Monday, May 21, in favor of bills the governor eventually vetoed. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL-Greater Minnesota leaders who followed the 2018 Minnesota Legislature say they have little to celebrate, so far at least.

"The best thing about today is that we are one day closer to Jan. 8, when the Legislature will reconvene in St. Paul committed to doing more good work and with a new governor in place," Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston said.

Rural Republicans like Green said they are incensed that Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton stamped "veto" on two major bills and several smaller ones, eliminating proposals of all sorts that would have helped their areas.

Republicans and Dayton have taken shot after verbal shot at each other since before the Legislature adjourned late Sunday, May 20. Green was one of the harshest critics. "The next person to hold that office almost certainly will be an improvement over Dayton and his legacy as that of someone willing to skin Minnesotans at all cost to claim a political pelt."

Dayton used these words, among others, to describe legislative Republicans and the legislative session as beholden to special interests, shambles, debacle, badly mismanaged, disgusting, vile and appalling. Dayton said House Republicans were doing nothing more than getting issues to discuss during the election campaign. He said they never intended to give him bills he could sign.

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It is tough for greater Minnesota leaders to deliver their final grade for the three-month session because Dayton has not yet announced whether he will sign or veto a public works funding bill. He is widely expected to sign the bill, but may veto some individual projects.

"We remain hopeful Gov. Dayton will sign the capital investment (bonding) bill, which will fund critical road, bridge and wastewater treatment infrastructure projects that will benefit Minnesota's agriculture sector and all Minnesotans," said Perry Aasness, executive director of AgriGrowth.

Most greater Minnesota advocates agreed with Aasness that a bonding bill is vital.

They said the same thing about a record-large 990-page funding and policy bill and another that contained tax and education funding provisions. Dayton vetoed both, saying he told legislators before they approved them that there were provisions in the bills that would force a veto.

When the Democratic governor vetoed the massive budget and policy bill, included was a provision to hire a second mental health counselor for troubled farmers across the state. The bill comes at a time when more farmers are depressed and suicide numbers are increasing as happened during the 1980s farm crisis.

Millions of dollars to improve mental health service in greater Minnesota was in the vetoed bill, with hope now resting on enactment of the $1.5 billion bonding bill, which includes $28 million for mental health crisis centers around the state.

"Being able to talk to somebody and work through some issues helps those farmers," Thom Petersen of the Minnesota Farmers Union said.

The bonding bill also contains $35 million for the Rural Finance Authority, which would help lenders loan to farmers. With a farm crisis that now is five years old, the $35 million lawmakers appropriated to the authority last year is running out in the next few days..

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The agriculture policy bill received a veto stamp, a rarity as agriculture bills usually have strong bipartisan support..

Rep. Paul Anderson of Starbuck and Sen. Bill Weber of Luverne, the legislative agriculture policy committee chairmen, did not like the fact that the state Soil and Water Resources Board is set to begin making statewide rules to govern how much soil loss is acceptable on a farm. They want the matter decided on a county-by-county basis because soil issues are different in different areas. So the ag policy bill contained a short item that made the switch to county control.

In an attempt to get Dayton to sign the bill, Weber's and Anderson's committees approved resolutions based on a never-used state law. The resolutions gave them power to delay an unrelated Dayton administration rule that forbids application of nitrogen fertilizer on frozen ground in parts of Minnesota. Anderson and Weber told Dayton they would not go through with the delay if he signed the agriculture bill.

He vetoed it.

"I am appalled..." Dayton said of the Weber-Anderson maneuver. "This action was unprecedented and offensive. By adopting the resolutions, the chairs interfered with the rights of Minnesotans, particularly people living in rural areas, to clean and safe drinking water."

Dayton said that in vetoing the bill, he was killing some provisions he would have liked to see, including a tax credit that would have helped beginning farmers, expanding Rural Finance Authority loans and giving drainage ditch authorities access to loans.

After their attempt to leverage Dayton into signing the bill failed, Weber and Anderson are proceeding with delaying the fertilizer rule.

President Kevin Paap of Minnesota Farm Bureau said farmers "were willing to put up with nitrogen rules," but not the statewide soil loss regulations.

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Another vetoed provision was $15 million to continue building high-speed internet. Dayton had sought twice that and some said $50 million was needed.

A separate bill that got the veto stamp would have approved Enbridge Energy's Line 3 crude oil pipeline across northern Minnesota. Dayton said the Public Utilities Commission is to decide the issue next month, and the commission is the right entity to do that.

Another bill he vetoed would have provided $9 million to help repay deputy registrars for expenses blamed on the failed motor vehicle license and registration computer system. Deputy registrars say some will be forced out of business by the extra expense.

A success for farmers was Dayton signing a bill delaying, for the second year, rules governing mowing state highway ditch right of ways.

Bradley Peterson of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities is one of many wondering through the holiday weekend about the future of the bonding bill. He said his cities could get millions of dollars for sewage and water treatment plants and would benefit from transportation funds in the bill.

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