ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Senate Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Omnibus Bill continues this session’s trend of placing greater emphasis on jobs and economic development in rural parts of the state. The bill passed the Senate Floor on a 37 to 22 vote on Wednesday. Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) carried the bill as Chair of the Environment, Economic Development and Agriculture Committee, and says this bill responds to the needs of business owners and community leaders.
“This package of legislation makes important investments in rural Minnesota through grants for market-based housing, and providing job and skills training that will help alleviate the serious workforce shortage issues we’ve been hearing about. It’s also good for businesses by providing technical assistance and matching dollars for projects that will create jobs in every corner of the state,” said Sen. Tomassoni.
The bill meets its General Fund spending target of $56.5 million. Some highlights from the bill, which funds a number of state agencies for the FY16-17 biennium are below.
Department of Employment and Economic Development:
• Adult Workforce Development Grants: $8 million for the biennium. This is an increase in funding dedicated to workforce sites across the state that help adults find and retain employment. This money is particularly useful in the wake of recent job loss related to the closing Keetac Mine.
• Business Development Competitive Grants: $6 million for the biennium. This money helps smaller communities grow and develop new businesses, which helps build and sustain economic development and creates jobs.
• Rural Career Counseling Coordinators: $1 million for the biennium. This new appropriation is for counselors at rural workforce development sites in the state to foster relationships between businesses, job seekers and educational institutions.
• Broadband Grants: $17 million for the biennium. This money will be used for border-to-border broadband grants to continue the state’s goal of giving all Minnesotans access to broadband internet. Currently, roughly 20 percent of the state’s residents lack access to basic broadband.
Minnesota Housing Finance Agency:
• Housing Job Growth Initiative: $8 million for the biennium. This money will be used for grants to Minnesota communities experiencing low vacancy rates and anticipated job expansions.
• Challenge Fund Increase: $1 million for the biennium. This appropriation will assist communities in creating rental housing that supports economic development.
• Agriculture Research, Education, Extension Grant Program: $16 million for the biennium. This money will fund grants for research at the University of Minnesota, the U’s Veterinary School and several other sites; agriculture rapid response for plant and animal diseases; and agriculture education programs which include farm business management and high school programs. Agriculture research has long been an important economic engine for the state, and this much-needed money will help create more robust infrastructure for ag research in the state.
• Advanced Biofuels Production Incentives: $5 million for the biennium. This provision provides incentives for biofuels, renewable chemicals and biomass thermal energy. This legislation represents a significant step forward and will make Minnesota one of the best places in the world to practice and produce biofuels technology.
• Industrial Hemp Development: $1.09 million over the biennium. This provision gives the Commissioner of Agriculture authority to conduct a pilot program to study the growth, cultivation, and marketing of industrial hemp in Minnesota. Under these guidelines, the Commissioner may authorize higher education institutions to conduct research on industrial hemp, as well as public/private entities.
Pollution Control Agency:
• Wild Rice Standards: $150,000 over the biennium. This serves as a permitting guideline for the PCA until it develops and implements a new water quality standard.
Department of Natural Resources:
• Forest Management: $5 million for the biennium.
• DNR Parks and Trails: $7.2 million for the biennium. This money will help maintain the state’s 25 multi-use state trails, 75 state parks and recreation areas and 56 state forest campgrounds.
• Shooting Sports Facility Grants: $5 million for FY16. This money will be used for trap, skeet and archery shooting sports facility grants. Local governments in addition to local shooting clubs can apply for these grants.
This bill funds a number of state agencies including the Department of Agriculture, Pollution Control Agency, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Minnesota Housing Finance Agency, Department of Commerce and the Department of Labor and Industry. The bill appropriates money from a variety of state funds like the Workforce Development Fund, the Game and Fish Fund, The Environment Fund and the Agriculture Fund, in addition to the state’s General Fund.
The Omnibus Bill’s next stop will be a conference committee with the House of Representatives.