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Vets gain, farmers cut in House budget bill

ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota House would give veterans programs more money, but delay or eliminate some agriculture spending.

But for some representatives, neither got enough money in a Wednesday 83-49 mostly party-line vote, with Democrats in favor and Republicans opposed.

"We are willing to fund dog parks and trails and hockey arenas," Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, said. "Where is our priority?"

Rep. Al Juhnke, DFL-Willmar, said his committee did the best it could to fund agriculture and veterans' programs, given the state's budget deficit.

The ag bill continues many programs with few cuts, including protecting the food supply, he said.

"We took care of food safety," said Juhnke, chairman of the committee that produced the bill.

Overall, however, Rep. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said the bill does not reflect the state's priorities. "It's a sad day in Minnesota."

Veterans' programs receive 3 percent more money in the House bill while military programs jump 7.7 percent, mostly for re-enlistment bonuses.

The state Agriculture Department budget would be chopped 8.3 percent, with much of the money coming from delaying for the second time payments made to ethanol producers.

Without ethanol cuts, the ag department's hit would be just 1.25 percent.

Some agriculture programs are cut and some ag money is moved to veterans' programs under the bill.

The vets-ag bill was the first of a dozen budget measures representatives debated this week. Together, they produce a budget for the next two years.

In many ways, the House ag-vets bill roughly mirrors a Senate-passed version in giving more money to veterans' programs while cutting ag.

Included in the House plan is a provision to delay $6 million in ethanol producer payments, originally set up to encourage corn farmers to invest in ethanol fuel production.

Much of that money already is past due to the ethanol producers after a 2003 law change delayed payments to help manage a previous state budget problem.

The House accepted a provision to post all ethanol payments to a Web site so the public knows who gets the money.