As the Minnesota Legislature prepares for the 2020 legislative session, our work turns away from the constitutionally-required budget setting of 2019 and more towards solving issues with one-time investments, policy initiatives and the infrastructure improvements to be included in the 2020 bonding bill.
For the House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division, that includes building on our efforts to deliver resources and support to Minnesota’s farmers during an extremely difficult time.
It’s been a common refrain that 2019 was one of the toughest years in a generation for farmers and though the Legislature took action, we’ll continue to monitor the effectiveness of our new policies and investments. There is no solve-all answer to what negatively impacts our farmers, but the multi-pronged solutions passed in a bipartisan fashion delivered much-needed resources to our family farms while also empowering Minnesota to be a leader in the agricultural industry.
A challenge that continues to impact our farmers is the uncertainty around federal trade policies, namely the trade war with China, one of Minnesota’s largest export destinations. The Legislature took steps last session to establish more stable and profitable markets for our farmers, but the fallout from ever-changing trade policies will be an issue of continued concern in 2020.
Funding efforts to establish new markets at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and connecting family farms to local schools and food shelves provide avenues of stable revenue for our farmers, regardless of federal policies.
We’ll also see the implementation of new tax laws this year. Our new tax law conforms to most of the federal tax changes made in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, including the elimination of like-kind exchange treatment for sales of business personal property. This simplifies the system for taxpayers by eliminating the need for separate state and federal records and is generally effective for sales and transfers dating back to 2018.
We also updated the agriculture homestead eligibility rules. The changes included in the tax bill ensure families who structure their farm as a dual entity still qualify for the homestead tax credit.
Also benefitting our farming communities is our work on referendum equalization, which is designed to provide districts with more help on their initial per-pupil levy increase. The referendum equalization increases of $10 million in FY19-21 and $20 million in FY22-23 will help hold down property taxes in these communities.
The financial burdens our farmers face compound the everyday struggles of running a farm. Combine that with inaccessible or nonexistent mental health resources and we had a crisis in our farming communities. Our work last year made strides in funding mental health awareness programming at the Minnesota Department of Agriculture by providing additional staffers for the Minnesota Farm Advocates program and by adding another mental health provider for farmers and their families to connect with at no cost to them.
The well-being of our rural communities will continue to be a focus of the 2020 legislative session, especially when evaluating proposals for the bonding bill crafted by the legislature’s capital investment committees. Projects from all over the state will be considered. However, there are crucial infrastructure updates in our farming communities, from roads to water treatment, that need to be addressed.
As we build a stronger Minnesota, supporting family farms and rural communities will continue to be a part of that mission.
Feel free to contact my office with any comments, concerns, or ideas you may have. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 651-296-4193.
Rep. Jeanne Poppe, D-Austin, is the chair of the Minnesota House Agriculture and Food Finance and Policy Division.