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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published July 10 2013

Minnesota notebook: Farm Bill plan falters

ST. PAUL – A Republican plan designed to pass a Farm bill appears to have failed.

Reuters news service reports that GOP leaders have not been able to pro-duce enough votes from their members to pass a bill funding farm programs for the next five years.

The GOP idea had been to split the bill into two, one funding agriculture programs and one funding nutrition programs such as food stamps. The two issues had been combined in one bill since 1977 because neither may receive enough votes on its own.

The top House agriculture Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, had predicted that the Republican plan lacked votes.

The Farm Bill, including food stamp funding, failed on June 20, but Peterson said that is the basic bill that needs to reach the House floor again, just without a provision that could lead to fewer people getting food stamps. That provision cost the bill Democratic votes.

“The bill we had is what the farm groups wanted, what the conservation groups wanted, what rural development groups wanted,” Peterson said. “Not everyone got what they wanted, but it is something that everybody supported.”

With Wednesday’s news that the GOP plan faltered, chances are greater that Congress will not be able to adopt new farm programs this year and, like last year, will end up passing a one-year extension of existing programs.

Lawmakers are months late in writing a new Farm Bill, divided on how much funding should be cut from farm subsidies, conservation programs and food stamps for the poor. Without action by Sept. 30, farm subsidy rates will revert to a 1949 “permanent” law that could, among other things, lead to a doubling of milk prices at the grocery store.

“I cannot recall when it has been more difficult to move a Farm Bill forward,” said analyst Mark McMinimy of Guggenheim Partners.

The Senate passed its version of the Farm Bill in early June. It calls for smaller overall cuts in spending than the House bill.

Farm lobbyists said Republican House leaders may try to build support for another attempt at a split bill. Alternately, they could retool the defeated bill and present it for a vote. An extension of current law is a third option.

State revenues up

Minnesota schools will get $463 million more because state revenues are that much higher than expected.

A Wednesday report from Minnesota Management and Budget showed personal income tax at $335 million above projections to lead the increase. That is 3.9 percent higher than expected, with corporate income taxes 10 percent higher.

Sales taxes were down slightly in the year that ended June 30.

State law requires all excess state revenue be used to help repay money the state has borrowed from schools in recent years.

About $400 million will remain to be paid back to schools.

State finance officials said much of the income tax increase came because many higher-income Minnesotans opted to move income to 2012 to avoid higher taxes expected in 2013. That was a one-time increase in state revenues, they said.

Gov. Mark Dayton said the report shows Minnesota has a good economy.

“Our state’s strong economic growth has enabled us to work our way out of previous budget deficits and repay most of what we owed our school districts,” Dayton said.

House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, credited a DFL budget passed two months ago for the good news.

“We mandated in our budget that repayment be accelerated and today that commitment paid off,” Thissen said. “This is good news not only for Minnesota kids, but for a stable state budget and a stronger economic future in Minnesota.”

Republicans said the news was due to a mostly Republican-written budget two years ago.

“Democrats have no excuse to raise taxes when indications show we can bring in additional revenue to the state and fund our priorities by not raising taxes and allowing the economy to grow,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said.

Canada sends smoke

Canadian wildfire smoke is drifting across much of Minnesota, the state Pollution Control Agency reports.

The agency reported Wednesday that air pollution monitors in many parts of Minnesota measured elevated fine particulate pollution. While the agency did not issue an air quality advisory because pollution appeared to be just moderate, people sensitive to air pollution still could be affected.

Need for speed kills

Minnesota public safety officials say young drivers who like to drive fast account for nearly 60 percent of the speed-related deaths in the state.

Figures the Office of Traffic Safety released Wednesday show drivers younger than 30 were involved in 57 percent of the 243 speed-related traffic deaths from 2010 to 2012. Those 65 and older were involved in just 5 percent of the speed-related deaths.

The Public Safety Department is stepping up speed enforcement through July 21.

Reuters news service contributed to this report.