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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published March 09 2010

Critics: 4-H bill may actually harm programs

ST. PAUL – A state senator’s bill designed to help fund a 4-H program in one county could end up hurting programs statewide, a fellow senator and a county fair representative warn.

Sen. Kathy Saltzman’s bill to provide new ways to fund 4-H programs passed out of its first committee Monday, but not before she heard warnings that it could do more harm than good. She also faced a charge that the proposal gives 4-H special treatment over other programs.

The Woodbury Democrat wrote the bill after Washington County commissioners decided the youth program was too expensive in these times of budget cuts and stopped funding it.

Washington County residents and some city officials were ready to pitch in financially, but as 4-H leaders hunted for money, “they were finding some barriers to their fundraising,” Saltzman said.

Executive Director David Olson of the Washington County Agriculture Society, which runs the county fair where 4-Hers display their projects, told the Senate State and Local Government Operations and Oversight Committee that the fair probably could not survive without 4-H and that cities and others who want to donate to 4-H find that state law apparently does not allow it.

With state funds being cut to counties, which provide much of the 4-H funding, the Washington County situation could expand to other areas.

“Other counties are watching Washington very, very closely,” Saltzman said.

Sen. Rick Olseen, DFL-Harris, agreed that Washington County is attracting lots of attention, but said the results may not be good for 4-H. He fears that if the Saltzman bill becomes law, other counties could end

4-H funding because the programs would have other money sources.

County fair leaders expect to draw up a response to the Saltzman bill this week, lobbyist Jerry Schoenfeld said. Some fair officials share Olseen’s fear.

“This bill was brought forth because of one county dropping its 4-H program,” Schoenfeld said, and there may be other ways to fix the problem.

Saltzman’s bill, which faces more committee debate before a full Senate vote, would allow Minnesota 4-H programs to collect money from:

  • Voluntary admission surcharges at the state or local fairs.

  • Cities or townships that want to appropriate money to the University of Minnesota Extension Service, which supervises the 4-H program.

  • Dues 4-H members pay; dues now are not allowed.

    All of the fundraising methods are voluntary.

    Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.