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A talk with the Senator

Sun, Dec 31st, 2000
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Monday, January 1, 2001

What do you expect the highlights of the coming session to be?

Scheevel: This will be an intense session, youve got new committee chairs and youve got the budget surplus, which is going to drive the discussion as it has for the past four years. And there will be redistricting (due to the 2000 census) going on which is the most partisan activity of all.

What about permanent tax cuts?

I think you can anticipate there will be some additional tax cuts this year. I think the debate is not whether there will be some, but how they are going to be directed. Youll see the House Republicans pushing for income tax cuts, and the Senate Democrats will be pushing more for property tax relief or reform. And the Governor is also talking about cutting all three tiers of the income tax. I suppose that X-stream Football League contract will be hitting him a little bit.

What do you see happening with property taxes?

I stayed on the property tax committee this year, because all the action is going to be there. Youve got the governors proposal to try to fund education 100% at state level, which is a $900 million-dollar property tax issue. In the senate I know that the Democrats are going to be coming forward with some sort of property tax relief and the governor would like to take a stab at simplifying it, and reducing property taxes overall.

Given how deregulation has worked or not worked Out West, is there a chance that that will be dealt with this year?

I would say the chance of electrical deregulation making any significant progress this year is very low. In California theyve seen rates double and triple. I do think you are going to see a significant effort on the part of some to try and push forward a plan to get more power generating capacity in Minnesota. The studies now show that within five years, the Midwest power pool is going to be experiencing an energy shortage of 5,000 megawatts. That means somebodys lights dont go on. I think its imperative that we find ways of streamlining the siting and permitting process because even if we take action this session, its going to take at least five years to get a new facility up and running.

Last year you said that Governor Venturas actions had pushed the two parties together; do you think that has continued to be the case?
In some respects I would say so, although I call it the "unholy dance". At the capital, youve got the three parties and two can always beat up on one. So theres always this kind of dance -- okay, do we work with the other house on this issue or do we work with the governor? I would say that there is a certain amount of disappointment in the governor, when he signed the XFL contract, which is going to take his time during session. People dont care that much if hes doing something like that during the summer, but during session the time commitment is pretty intense and you really need the governor around to be at the table so youre working through these three-way agreements.

I find that just representing 65,000 people consumes a lot of time and hes representing 4 1/2 million -- of course I dont have quite the staff that he does.

Do you see that the governor has grown into the job, that hes becoming a bit more statesmanlike?

The governor, like everyone, has his strengths and weaknesses, I think he better understands the job than when he took office. That was evident from the first to the second session. The first session he said, "heres the budget proposal, you guys pass the bills and Ill either veto or sign them," and then he walked away from the table.

It was literally the last week or two of the session that he was finally convinced that he had to be more involved. Last session I saw him more involved. He still is very reluctant to interact with legislators. Its almost impossible to call up his staff and say we need to sit down and talk with the governor. If it isnt one of his agenda items that hes pushing he really doesnt want to be bothered with it. I dont even pretend to know why that is. It just seems to be his style. Youd think as governor he would want to be interacting and lobbying for his agenda and understanding some of the issues. But hes basically appointed some very competent people to be his staff and commissioners and he tells them, "this is the direction were going, now you make it happen."

Do you see the subsidies being continued for the ethanol industry?

The state legislature made a ten-year commitment to subsidize 15 million gallons per plant at 20 cents a gallon. The goal was to get the plants up and running and then after the infrastructure was paid off, the expectation was that they could make it on their own. Im sure youre aware that the Preston plant is planning to double their capacity and thats a situation where they feel once they have the base plant there, they can double capacity and do it without the extra 20 cents subsidy.

There is also a lot of interest in adding soy oil to diesel fuel, The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has come out with new standards to lower the sulfur content in diesel fuel. The sulfur in diesel fuel has a lubricating property and it will put the engines at risk if you dont replace that with some other lubricant. I think ethanol stays the course and that soy diesel makes inroads this year.

I was at a conference in Washington DC last week where they emphasized that our dependence on foreign energy supplies is much greater than it used to be. So I think theres a tremendous opportunity for the ag industry to get involved in making up some of that difference.

Do you see the federal governor and the EPA getting more involved in the permitting of feedlots?

The EPA is looking very seriously at redefining what a CAFO, (Concentrated Animal Feedlot Operation) is. Theyre talking about lowering the threshold to 500 animal units. What is defined as a CAFO determines what then needs to be permitted under an NPDES, (National Pollution Discharge Elimination System), which not only brings in federal oversight, it also brings in an annual fee.

It appears to me that the debate has somewhat shifted from the state level to the federal level in terms of regulatory oversight on animal feedlot operations.

Al Mathison

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