Greater Minnesota legislative issues receive mixed grades
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota farmers are happy that lawmakers lowered some farm property taxes, but small businesses complain that a higher minimum wage and a bill giving them more legal exposure will hurt.
Dry southwestern Minnesotans think they may get Missouri River water, but some rural residents fear they will not have the access to medical marijuana of their big-city cousins.
In short, the story greater Minnesota residents heard from the 2014 Legislature was mixed.
Among the biggest accomplishments lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed after the session ended was lowering property taxes for Minnesotans who live on their farms. It will not be enough to buy a new tractor, but supporters of the measure say the $200 farmers will save is good news.
“The recently completed Minnesota legislative session took some positive steps forward for Farm Bureau and agriculture in Minnesota,” Minnesota Farm Bureau President Kevin Paap said. “This included repealing taxes adopted in the 2013 session and continuing support for renewable fuels.”
The Farm Bureau leader indicated one of the organization's top priorities was to repeal a sales tax charged on machinery and equipment repair. The Legislature also repealed a sales tax that was to be charged on warehouse storage.
The ag community also expressed appreciation for the Legislature leaving something alone: a requirement that many agriculture jobs are on a 48-hour week rather than 40 hours, which is the standard in most other jobs.
On the other hand, National Federation of Independent Business leaders were not happy.
Federation State Director Mike Hickey said small businesses, many of which are in greater Minnesota, are disappointed with "the dramatic increase in the minimum wage."
Dayton said he would watch how the minimum wage increase affects businesses and will suggest changes if needed.
Hickey said businesses have issues with the Women's Economic Security Act, which gives parents more rights on the job. He said the law would spur more employee lawsuits against businesses.
“We just added a big percentage of the population to a protected class status under the act, and we fear this is not workable and will likely lead to a significant number of new lawsuits against small employers,” Hickey said.
Rural Minnesota may split over two issues that blossomed late in the session: a water project and medical marijuana.
Dayton and Republicans take credit for funding water pipelines in southwestern Minnesota.
"I feel very, very good about Lewis and Clark," Dayton told greater Minnesota reporters Wednesday. "That is one of the highlights where I can say, 'I made this happen.' It was not on anyone's radar screen at the outset."
Legislative Republicans who represent that part of the state fought for the pipeline, as did other GOP lawmakers. They devised a two-part funding solution after federal money dried up.
"I can't say that I totally understand what the mechanism is," Dayton admitted.
Even though local officials are happy with the money, some are concerned they may not have enough to handle their part of the funding.
If water may be easier to obtain in at least one rural area, medical marijuana may be tough to buy, said Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.
"That’s going to be an issue: access for all Minnesotans,” Ingebrigtsen said. “You are going to have potentially eight different distribution centers, depending on the population. If you’re in a denser populated area, you’re probably going to have more. That’s going to be an issue. You may end up running toward the metro to get your medical marijuana, should you need that.”
Aaron Hagen contributed to this story.