ST. PAUL -- How best to help struggling farmers will be a point of DFL-Republican tension in the upcoming legislative session.
House Republicans proposed Tuesday a $75 million package they believe will boost the economy in rural Minnesota.
The biggest chunk of the proposal, up to $40 million, would go to farm property tax relief.
Declaring himself a ''rural person'' and a farmer, House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, called the GOP approach a comprehensive one.
The proposal is merely the opening offer from the GOP. DFL House members suggested some initiatives today, which differed significantly from the GOP. Both parties will attempt to convince Gov. Jesse Ventura of the need for the programs. He has taken a hard line against spending in the 2000 session because the state's two-year budget is put together in off years.
Rep. Doug Peterson, DFL-Madison, called the GOP proposals merely a ''Band-Aid'' to get through an election year.
''There's really nothing here of substance,'' he said.
Peterson said the regulatory changes seemed designed to usher in an era of industrialized feedlots.
He believes the problem for farmers is commodity prices.
The House DFL minority listed its top proposal as family farm license plates. Proceeds from the special plates would be used to protect family farmers.
DFLers didn't propose a specific amount for a relief package this year. Peterson said today they were looking for long-term solutions. Those include enacting minimum price legislation if a significant number of other states enact similar proposals.
The DFLers also want to approve a contractor producers' bill of rights and tax agriculture operations like industrial facilities if they produce more than $1 million in revenue.
The House GOP caucus would spend $4.3 million for full payments to ethanol producers, $11.2 million to restore funding for 192 high school level vocational agriculture programs and $10 million to give additional money to rural districts to compensate for declining student enrollment.
And the GOP would spend $10 million to equalize reimbursement rates to nursing homes. Currently, nursing homes in Hennepin County receive more money under the Prepaid Medical Assistance Program.
A smaller part of the plan would seek to increase access to technology through grants and an e-business institute.
But Sviggum repeatedly stressed where the emphasis would be.
''The most appropriate thing we can do for farmers is to permanently cut high property taxes on agricultural land to help with their bottom line,'' he said.
Republicans would model the tax relief package on last year's, allowing farmers to exempt a higher percentage of their land from the education portion of their property taxes.
Last year, the Legislature included more than $50 million in farm property relief in the tax bill to give farmers a break of at least 20 percent on their bills.
In 2000, Republicans also want to establish a $14 million, three-year ''agricultural set-aside program.'' The program would be for land severely damaged due to floods or other troubles. The plan would be to provide short-term assistance for the agricultural economy.
The GOP didn't provide many specifics, but included in the agenda a plan to cut ''burdensome regulations,'' specifically at nursing homes so administrators can spend more time with patients rather than paperwork.
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