In a document with a Minneapolis return address that's home to national public relations powerhouse Padilla, Minnesota House candidates are being asked by the AgriGrowth Council "A Greater Minnesota" to pledge to raid the Clean Water Fund to pay for a $50 per acre tax credit for farmers taking land out of production under the state's buffer law.
Governor Dayton had preferred to fund the tax credit, which was rolled into the giant omnibus bill he vetoed, with general revenue money. The Star Tribune's Tom Meersman reported in Farmers urge Gov. Mark Dayton and legislative leaders to provide tax credits for buffer property:
Dayton’s office issued a brief statement on the issue on Wednesday: “I strongly support the buffer tax credit through any funding source that is constitutional.”
Here's the questionnaire legislators were sent this week:
Friends of the Mississippi River explained the constitutional problems with the approach back to May's post, House and Senate move to claim Clean Water Fund money for property tax rebates:
Both the House and Senate are moving to use of Clean Water Funds to fund a property tax credit, a clear violation of the Legacy Amendment.
The 2008, Minnesotans voted for the Clean Water, Land & Legacy Amendment. The amendment increased our sales tax to invest in our environment and cultural heritage.
The water portion of these funds (about 1/3rd of the money raised each year) goes to the “Clean Water Fund”. The constitutional language approved by voters clearly specifies the scope of allowable uses for the Clean Water Fund. These dedicated funds must be: “…[S]pent only to protect, enhance, and restore water quality in lakes, rivers, and streams and to protect groundwater from degradation and at least five percent of the clean water fund must be spent only to protect drinking water sources. Minn. Constitution, Art. XI, Section 15.”
Conspicuously absent from the above list: property tax relief.
But that has not stopped the Legislature this session.
What’s in the bills?
Legislators have introduced bills in both chambers (SF 3960 / HF 4395) that seek to use Clean Water Funds to pay for a tax credit given to landowners with buffers along public waters. However, the credit it is not compensation for the cost of establishing a buffer. Instead, it is a permanent payment for the purpose of property tax relief.
There are several serious problems with this approach:
- An ongoing flat rate tax credit is not consistent with the constitutional limits on the Clean Water Fund. Voters approved these constitutionally dedicated funds believing that legislators would stick to the rules, not redirect money to other uses.
- Such credits are estimated to cost over $27 million in the next biennium – about 12% of the entire Clean Water Fund. Diverting clean water funds for tax credits would substantially reduce the money available for restoration and protection programs.
- The Clean Water Fund expires in 2034. The proposed tax credits would be permanent, but would not have a permanent funding source – a recipe for financial disaster moving forward.
- The legislature has traditionally funded tax credits through the general fund.
Using constitutionally dedicated funds for permanent tax relief is inappropriate. That’s why FMR and our conservation partners have called on legislators and Governor Dayton to reject this unwise approach.
The Outcomes-Based model for regulation also invites scrutiny, rather than a quick pledge to overhaul the state's environmental process.
Who is "A Greater Minnesota"? Evolution of a pledge
When "A Greater Minnesota" was launched prior to the 2014 election, a post on the AgriGrowth Council's website noted the membership of the electoral effort:
A critical new tool for the 2014 election cycle launched today with the goal of providing voters with an easy-to-use source for identifying where candidates stand on important food and ag issues. “A Greater Minnesota,” comprised of Agri-Growth, the Minnesota Pork Producers Association, the Minnesota Turkey Growers Association, the Chicken and Egg Association of Minnesota, the Minnesota Milk Producers Association formed the group to give food and ag issues a powerful voice in this year’s election. . . .
. . .Our mission is to get in front of the voters to combat the flow of misinformation about Minnesota’s food and ag industry and provide solid, research-based information to pro-agriculture voters and candidates.
The key component of the initiative is the 5-point pledge the coalition are asking Minnesota House of Representatives candidates to take regarding issues important to the growth and competitiveness of the Minnesota’s food and ag sector. You can view the pledge here.
That link now leads to a page that notes a 2018 version of the document is coming, and state constitutional officers will be asked to pledge, as well as House candidates.
When "A Better Minnesota" first put out a pledge in 2014, the five items highlighted were much less wonky. Since the 2014 pledge has been stripped from the page, we can only find traces of it online. For instance, Bluestem included this now-deleted material in a November 2014 post:
During the recently concluded campaign season, the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council and a group of other Minnesota farm and food entities launched "A Greater Minnesota" (AGM) coalition, which put together the 5-Point Farm And Food Pledge, briefly described on its About Page:
A key component of our campaign is asking you, the voters, to encourage legislative candidates to take the 5-point MN Food and Farm Pledge, which encourages supporting all good MN farms (big or small, traditional or organic), environmental stewardship, caring for farm animals, sensible food labeling and food safety.
The "sensible food labeling" plank was centered around GMO labeling, and seems to have dropped from the pledge after that election.
The outline of the 2016 pledge is available at The Farmer:
The plan asks that legislative candidates commit to policies that support:
1. All farms — large and small, rural and urban, conventional and organic
2. More research for better food and improved farm practices
3. Smarter regulation to make Minnesota more competitive with other states
4. Economic, workforce and transportation policies to help rural Minnesota grow
5. Strategies to address issues of water quality
Gone this year is the point for all farms, whether large or small, rural and urban, conventional and organic. Perhaps that's related to state senate testimony by a University of Minnesota dairy expert (and consultant to Minnesota Milk) that the last generation of small dairy farms is calling it quits, as we reported last April in From Land Stewardship Project: U economist says help is disservice to many dairy farmers.
Clearly, corporate ag isn't afraid to play taps for Minnesota's small family farms--and perhaps hold out the belief that no one will notice the change in the pledge. Even the lawmakers pledging fealty to it.
On the other side, a new group called A Greater Minnesota (AGM) retained the services of Himle Rapp & Co. The new outfit was formed by the Minnesota Agri-Growth Council, the Minnesota Pork Producers Association and the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, among other existing agriculture interest groups.
AGM also involved itself in electoral politics, challenging legislative candidates to sign its “five-point pledge.” The group’s opposition to “pseudo-science labeling proposals regarding GMOs” was one element of that policy platform. Other points call for environmental policies “based on sound science … [which] do not put Minnesota farmers and companies at a competitive disadvantage,” as well as “responsible regulation and … voluntary practices” from farmers to insure food safety.
Now the effort's return address suggests that Padill'a Minneapolis office has the contract. In September 2017, the firm posted news on its website that John Himle Joins Padilla as Executive Vice President, Senior Counsel. Padilla describes itself in the post:
Padilla is a top 10 independent public relations and communications company comprised of 240 employee-owners. Padilla builds, grows and protects brands worldwide by creating purposeful connections with the people who matter most through public relations, advertising, digital and social marketing, investor relationsby and brand strategy. Padilla includes the brand consultancy of Joe Smith, the food and nutrition experts at FoodMinds and the research authorities at SMS. Clients include 3M, Barnes & Noble College, Bayer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota, GE, Hass Avocado Board, Land O’Lakes, Mayo Clinic, Prosciutto di Parma, Rockwell Automation, U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, the Virginia Lottery and Welch’s. Padilla is a founding member of The WorldCom Public Relations Group, a partnership of 143 independently owned partner offices in 115 cities on six continents. Make a connection at PadillaCo.com.
Bayer-- a chemical company that manufactures bee-busting ag chemicals and recently retired the Monsanto name after the companies merged--is clearly our favorite in that list of clients, as our post, What's in a brand? Bayer retirement of Monsanto company name echoes post-WWII rebranding, would suggest.
Image: Via the Friends of the Mississippi River.
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