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Executive Director John Jaschke of the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources announces Thursday, Oct.5, 2017, that 94 percent of farmers required to meet a Nov. 1 deadline to install buffers already have done so. Don Davis / Forum News Service file photo

Capitol Chatter: Lesson learned, vet major proposals well

ST. PAUL — John Jaschke learned a valuable lesson the other day: Don't rush so fast that you skip over important details.

The Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources, known as BWSR, executive director told Forum News Service that mistakes happen when you hurry. Not only do mistakes happen, he learned, but in some instances state leaders may condemn you in the harshest of terms.

Jaschke takes full responsibility for drawing up a proposed rule to fine land owners (mostly farmers) $500 per foot for violations of the state's law requiring a plant buffer along water, an effort to curb pollution.

But farm-country legislators said the law caps fines at $500 total, not per foot. The governor, who was not notified of the potential rule change, issued a letter highly critical of it.

The phrase "highly critical" does not do justice to what Jaschke heard when he visited House and Senate agriculture committees.

"Trust has been broken, broken really bad," Sen. Michael Goggin, R-Red Wing, said.

The normally quiet Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, added: "The vilification of farmers just blows my mind. ... What can we think of next to hurt these farmers?"

The comments came after Jaschke assured lawmakers that the proposal was dead. A BWSR committee on Thursday, April 12, confirmed that by voting down the plan.

BWSR sought public comments and got them, Jaschke said. "The board committee decision today shows responsiveness to the public input we sought and received, and we are grateful that Minnesotans shared their opinions."

Jaschke repeatedly apologized for not vetting the proposal before seeking public comments. He said in an interview and later to legislative committees that he first should have talked to farm groups, legislators and Dayton. If he had done that, he would not have faced some of the harshest comments to come in legislative hearings.

The story is no over.

"So that plan will be going away, but still questions remain," Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck said. "We have to look into how much authority local folks have and will BWSR have authority to say you have to qualify at least with the state standards, or can local units of governments come up with their own standards relating to the buffer law?"

Jaschke said he will try to do better. "My dad was a farmer and he said, 'You make a mistake, you own up to it and you fix it.'"

A vets' home home

Minnesota lawmakers are continuing a years-long effort to decide where the home should be for the next veterans' home.

Fillmore County, Montevideo and Bemidji are asking to host the facility, which would join ones in Minneapolis, Hastings, Silver Bay, Luverne and Fergus Falls. Existing homes have 824 beds; a facility or facilities with 234 more beds could be eligible for partial federal funding.

Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, proposes spending $16 million for homes in Bemidji and Montevideo. Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, seeks $10 million for Fillmore County.

Ben Johnson of the Department of Veterans Affairs said new census figures could show a shrinking need in Minnesota. "We have noticed a decrease in veterans and an increase in Sun Belt states."

Taxes, transportation head list

House Republicans would spend much of the state's budget surplus on tax relief and transportation, but they are not saying specifically how it would be divided.

GOP leaders released what they call "targets," the amount of money available to be spent in each part of the budget. This would be on top of the $46 billion, two-year budget lawmakers passed last year.

Atop the list is $107 million for taxes. Tax cuts are considered spending in the state budget, but the tax part of the budget also can include spending like state aid to cities.

Fixing roads and bridges, a $101 million ask, is No. 2 on the GOP list. Nothing else even comes close to $100 million in spending the projected $329 million surplus.

Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton released his full supplemental budget proposal earlier this year, but Republicans who hold narrow Senate control have not said what they would do with the surplus.

Lots of issues

The other day when Dayton met with reporters he talked about at least 17 topics, most brought up by the media.

In Dayton news conferences, he usually answers questions from reporters on a variety of topics, but 17 is a lot.

The topics ranged from the mummified monkey found in what used to be his family's department store to his proposal to provide incentives to the forest products industry, from how the state should deal with federal tax law changes to the race for governor.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.