Sparks: Fortifying support for Minnesota’s agriculture industry
By Dan Sparks
State Senator, District 27
The long nights of the 2019 Legislative Session have arrived. This week my colleagues and I in the Senate started to take up budget bills on the floor, and there has been robust debate and discussion on these important issues as we work together to create a final budget for Minnesota. Our budget is the highest priority for this year, and we must make sure we pass a final budget that reflects our shared values.
The very first budget bill that my colleagues and I passed this year came out of our Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance Committee. As a member of this committee, I have been working with my colleagues all session hearing bills that fall into this area. Our agriculture industry and rural communities face unique challenges, and we have heard from farmers, advocates, and local officials about many of these issues, and addressing them has been a priority.
A major component of this budget is a $30 million investment in the state’s Border-to-Border Broadband Grant Program. Right now, thousands of Minnesotans lack access to high-quality, high-speed internet. As our society and economy continue to become more interconnected, lacking access to broadband hurts our community’s ability to succeed. This funding is a good step, but I was optimistic that this year we would invest more. In committee, I offered an amendment to match the Governor and House position of $70 million in investment and hope that we will get closer to that number in our final budget.
There are several other priorities that are being supported with this budget. We are making changes that will help our dairy industry, including creating a loan program to help dairy farmers modernize their equipment and facilities. We are also taking steps towards addressing workforce housing shortages that are being faced throughout Minnesota, including reserving half of the funding in the Workforce and Homeownership Development Program for towns with populations under 7,500.
While these are good, smart steps forward, I am disappointed we didn’t do more. With a surplus of approximately $1 billion and an ailing farm economy, we should be doing more to support this multi-billion dollar industry that is so critical to our state. I will continue to work with my colleagues to try to increase funding for these priorities. This is also true for support for our schools, our nursing homes, and our small businesses. I look forward to working with legislators on both sides of the aisle over these final weeks to make sure our final budget reflects the priorities we share as Minnesotans.
These next few weeks at the Legislature will be quite busy, but I always make time for my constituents. Please reach out to my office if you have questions, comments, or concerns about action at the Capitol, or if you need help addressing any other issues.
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