Public input on budget process welcomed

This week, the state’s new Agriculture Commissioner, Dave Frederickson, visited Southern Minnesota for an Albert Lea luncheon that celebrated National Ag Day. It was a great chance to recognize successful area farmers and remember the importance of agriculture to our nation’s economy and food supply.

Commissioner Frederickson talked a lot about what’s happening at the state level regarding agriculture this year. He noted the Department of Agriculture undoubtedly will be impacted by budget cuts, but he also said he’s been working with lawmakers to ensure those cuts don’t damage the long-term viability of Minnesota farms. It’s an important goal that I share.

This week at the Capitol, we will be asked to vote on this agriculture budget as well as about 10 other budget proposals that, combined, will address the state’s $5 billion budget deficit. Governor Dayton presented his proposals, and now lawmakers are busy discussing the alternative proposals introduced by the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.

In the Senate, only three budget proposals were released this week. The rest will be coming early next week, meaning the public and other lawmakers will have just a few days to digest the ideas before the March 25 deadline to pass all budgets to the Senate’s Finance Committee.

There are big items at stake. The Senate Republican budget plan aims to cut 47 percent of the budget for jobs and economic development, reducing or eliminating job-training programs across the state. Environment and Natural Resources, which funds our state parks, will take a 29 percent cut; something the Department of Natural Resources predicts could cause seven state parks to close permanently and 14 others to offer rustic-only camping. The 16 percent cut to higher education could threaten scholarships, grants and other financial aid to at least 10,000 Minnesota students who can’t afford to pay for college on their own.

The exact details of how these funding cuts will be delivered will be released in the full budget bills that will be released this week. It’s incredibly important for Minnesotans to stay updated on what is being discussed, and to share concerns or comments about the proposals. To remain updated about Capitol committee schedules this week, I encourage you to visit the Senate website at www.senate.mn.

If you would like an opportunity to talk to me in the district, please join me and Representative Jeanne Poppe on Saturday, March 26 for two “Doughnuts and Dialogue” sessions. We will be at the Langtry Café in Brownsdale at 9 a.m., and at the Community Center in LeRoy at 10:30 a.m. Anyone with thoughts on the budget process, or any other concern, is encouraged to attend.

And as always, please feel free to contact me about visiting the Capitol or any other issue at: sen.dan.sparks@senate.mn; 651-296-9248; Room 19 State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155.

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Senator Dan Sparks
Dan Sparks represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower, and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.

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