The following column by Senator Bill Weber (R-Luverne) originally appeared in the Rock County Star Herald.
The legislature is back in session for 2020! As we spend the next ten weeks in St. Paul, there are a few issues I want to keep at the forefront of your mind.
In 2019, as the only politically divided legislature in the nation, we passed our biennial state budget with bipartisan support. The budget prioritized farm families and farm development across Greater Minnesota through investments in affordable housing, broadband, agricultural research, mental health services, and more.
But as Minnesota farmers and ag producers continue struggling with the multi-year decline of farm income, the legislature has work left to do. As chair of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Policy Committee, my focus will be making sure citizens in Greater Minnesota are equipped for the future.
There are a number of reforms to be made to support farm families and businesses. We have a $1.3 billion budget surplus, which puts us in a position to engage in true tax reform. I will push for full Section 179 conformity, which relates to farm equipment purchases and depreciation, as well as for middle class income tax reductions and a further cut to the income tax on Social Security benefits. It is also possible that some of the budget surplus might be used to pay cash for the many capital needs across the state, including within our transportation network, our colleges and universities, local wastewater treatment infrastructure, and others. Paying cash for these projects would save money in the long run rather than burdening taxpayers with more debt.
In addition, we know access to high-speed broadband internet is absolutely critical for Minnesotans to compete in the modern economy. Last session, we prioritized rural broadband access with an additional $40 million for the Border-to-Border Rural Broadband program. Connecting rural areas is a necessity and it’s something consistently on legislators’ minds.
Next, while African Swine Fever has not been detected in Minnesota, the disease is currently ravaging China’s pig population. Minnesota – and particularly southern Minnesota – is among the national leaders in pork production; other ag producers, like soybean farmers, would also be adversely affected by the African Swine Fever should it ever reach Minnesota. We will be exploring options for preventative and detection measures to ensure the safety of our animals and our citizens.
Finally, over the past few years, one of my focuses at the state legislature has been the shortage of affordable housing and childcare in Minnesota – and asking how government rules and regulations are adding to the cost, particularly in Greater Minnesota. While we understand the market has seen an increase in construction costs, and while our daycare providers deserve to make a good income, there is little doubt that government regulations have also contributed to the cost increases. Government’s answer is to throw more money at the problem rather than reevaluate itself.
To that end, I will continue to push for reforms that helps builders reduce costs and, ultimately, provide more affordable housing and childcare in our communities. We will be looking at ways to directly address the affordable housing shortage, including potentially modifying burdensome permitting fees, zoning restrictions, and code requirements that limit new construction and unnecessarily drive-up the cost of housing for everyone. Ultimately, the most effective way to drive down costs it to create more options.
As a state senator representing all or parts of nine rural counties, I know how important many of these issues are to my constituents. I will keep you updated as the session progresses – and, as always, I’d love to hear your feedback. Contact my office any time.
Senator Bill Weber
Senator Bill Weber, of Luverne, represents Cottonwood, Jackson, Lincoln, Lyon, Murray, Nobles, Pipestone, Redwood, and Rock counties in the Minnesota Senate. He serves as chair of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Policy Committee.