Legislative Update: Expanded budget forecast

The state legislative session is now in full swing with packed committee hearings as lawmakers race to review proposals ahead of the March 22 deadline for new bills.

On Feb. 29 state budget officials released an updated budget forecast showing an expected $3.7 billion budget surplus in the current two-year budget cycle (2024-’25)—up $1.3 billion from the $2.4 billion forecast last November. This improved financial picture stems from increases in projected revenue, largely due to higher-than-expected corporate profits. State spending will largely stay the same under the new projection.

In the next biennium (2026-’27), the numbers also improved markedly, increasing from a thin $82 million surplus to a more comfortable $2.24 billion. Unfortunately, concerns about a structural imbalance persist as the state is still taking in less in total revenue than they’re spending.

Some important notes on the forecast. First, it’s just a forecast—an informed prediction. Second, it includes both $3 billion in the state’s rainy day fund (the largest ever) and $980 million for an expected bonding bill. Third and finally, per legislation passed last session, the forecast now accounts for inflation.

For MFU, this is important for legislative priorities that require new funding, the largest of which is taking the next step in establishing a MinnesotaCare Public Option. Following news of the budget surplus and together with other organizations leading on a Public Option, MFU President Gary Wertish authored a letter to Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.

“Today, and on behalf of our many members who have joined you at the Capitol in recent weeks, we are writing to request that you include a MinnesotaCare Public Option in a supplemental budget,” he said, referencing conversations during Lobby Day. “The health and financial well-being of too many families is at stake not to act . . . This is the next big step toward making truly affordable, high-quality healthcare a reality for every Minnesotan.”

Updated legislation on the public option is expected in the coming days.

Also important from a budget perspective is our work to fund the state’s AGRI program, which houses important work on farm to school, beginning farmers, livestock infrastructure and county fairs. MFU Executive Committee member and Chippewa County President Josh VanDerPol traveled to St. Paul to offer testimony on House Ag Chair Samantha Vang’s, DFL-Brooklyn Center, bill to help fund this program long-term (HF3763).

Josh VanDerPol

Josh VanDerPol testifying on March 5 on the importance of the AGRI fund.

“What’s even more important to know about AGRI is that the undesignated funds give MDA the ability to respond quickly to new challenges and opportunities,” he shared with the committee, referencing his experience as a livestock producer. “When COVID-19 shut down the large packing plants, putting pressure on the already stressed system of small and mid-sized processors that serve farms like mine, MDA sprang into action. They created a rapid-response mini-grant program to help support small processors, helped small meat lockers purchase PPE for employees, and provided a matching service for livestock producers who couldn’t find processing.”

On the Senate side, MFU offered testimony a number of bills including those requiring labeling of lab-grown meat (SF4026), accepting SNAP at farmers markets (SF3404), expanding farm-to-school and early care (SF3528) to in-home providers, and updating financial reporting for farmer-owned cooperatives (SF4288).

Hannah Bernhardt

Hannah Bernhardt testifies in a Senate hearing on March 4.

“I think we should strive for that transparency across our agricultural markets and clear, informative labeling is a great place to start,” said MFU’s Pine County President, Hannah Bernhardt, in support for the labeling proposal and citing how her business relies on genuine relationships with customers. The proposal had opposition testimony from companies growing cell-cultured poultry and seafood products, produced in a ‘brewery-like environment.’

Water quality

MFU also submitted updated testimony on Rep. Steve Jacob’s, R-Altura, bill (HF4044) to pilot a $5-per-acre tax credit to promote Minnesota’s Ag Water Quality Certification program.

“MAWQCP certified farms on average see a 49 percent reduction in nitrate loss through the adoption of conservation practices like reduced tillage, cover crops, and nutrient management,” President Wertish said in his letter to lawmakers. “Piloting a tax credit in counties in southeast Minnesota could accelerate interest in this impactful program and advance adoption of soil health practices across the region.”

Also related to water quality, MFU was glad to join others in renewing support for increased funding for Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs). The proposal, led by Sen. Grant Hauschild, DFL-Hermantown, would increase funding for districts from $12 million to $16 million (SF4422), closer to what they’d received previously from the Clean Water Fund.

Another environment-related proposal, introduced by Chair Aric Putnam, DFL-St. Cloud, and discussed at the MFU Full Board Meeting last month would require additional and more stringent permitting for livestock projects over 10,000 animal units. At present, this new rule would affect just one entity—a large dairy that has multiple projects and a pending proposal above this threshold. The Board has agreed to support this proposal both to ensure this new scale of development is environmental responsible and amid concerns about rapid consolidation in the dairy industry. According to the latest ag census, Minnesota lost nearly 1,500 dairy farms between 2017 and 2022 despite the state adding cows.

Antitrust work

On the antitrust front, last week Attorney General Keith Ellison joined Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL–Brooklyn Park, Reps. Emma Greenman, DFL–Minneapolis, and Kristi Pursell, DFL–Northfield, along with Sens. Lindsey Port, DFL–Burnsville, and Liz Boldon, DFL–Rochester, for a press conference announcing a legislative packaged to “Unrig Minnesota’s Economy” and address the impacts of corporate monopolies in Minnesota. Among the legislation were two key MFU priorities, right to repair and modernizing Minnesota’s antitrust law, which was written in 1971.

“Minnesotans are urging us to take action to level the playing field for workers and families, in an economy tilted to benefit powerful corporations and wealthy interests,” Rep. Greenman said in a press release. “That’s why we’re advancing our agenda to unrig Minnesota’s Economy and put market power back in the hands of Minnesotans.”

On a federal level, the US House and Senate Appropriations Committees released text of a budget agreement that will fund parts of the federal government after multiple stopgap measures over the course of several months. The $459 billion package includes important funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) including an additional $2.5 million for enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act and fully funds several appropriations priorities, including the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network (FRSAN), the Food Safety Outreach Program (FSOP), conservation operations at USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and for the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

However, the text includes concerning changes to the funding for the Antitrust Division at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). Not only does the agreement underfund the Antitrust Division, it also restricts the division’s ability to collect fees that companies pay when submitting mergers for approval, which undermines the bipartisan Merger Filing Fee Modernization Act led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., to increase those fees. MFU sent a letter this morning from President Wertish to the Minnesota Congressional Delegation urging members to reverse these changes. Last night Sen. Klobuchar spoke on the Senate floor about the damage these changes could cause.

In more positive antitrust news, USDA has finalized a Packers and Stockyards Act rule establishing clearer standards for prohibited practices relating to discrimination, retaliation and deception in contracting. The USDA announced that the Inclusive Competition and Market Integrity rule will go into effect on May 5. The rule prohibits discrimination against livestock producers and poultry growers, prohibits retaliation against producers and growers for engaging in protected activities such as the assertion of contractual rights and participation in associations and cooperatives, and prohibits use of false or misleading statements in contract formation. You can find the full text of the final rule here.

As always, if you have questions, thoughts, or concerns about MFU’s legislative work, reach out to Stu at stu@mfu.org or (320) 232-3047 (C).

Helpful links

Legislative calls

Mark your Calendar for MFU Legislative Calls. The next one is March 15 @ 10:30 a.m.

MFU hosts regular MFU Legislative Calls the first and third Friday of every month from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. These calls are used to provide timely updates on legislative work and gain feedback from members on emerging issues and are open to all members.

Here’s call-in information, which stays the same:

Short link: bit.ly/legislativecall (just click or copy this into your browser to join.)

Zoom link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87946393050

Call-in: (312) 626-6799

Meeting ID: 879 4639 3050

Below is the list of calls through the state legislative session:

  • March 15 @ 10:30 a.m.
  • April 5 @ 10:30 a.m.
  • April 19 @ 10:30 a.m.
  • May 3 @ 10:30 a.m.
  • May 17 @ 10:30 a.m.

If you have questions, please contact Stu Lourey at (320) 232-3047 (C) or stu@mfu.org.