CAPITOL CHATTER: A sea of color greets Minnesota agri-business
ST. PAUL — Pat Lunemann said he looks over his dairy farm employees and sees "a sea a multiple colors."
Many workers come from close to his Clarissa, Minn., farm, but quite a few are Latino and others bring with them various ethnic backgrounds. Immigrants are important to his farm and agriculture in general, he said.
"All the people in rural America who can work already are working," he said. "If we don't have these immigrants, I don't know how we are going to function."
Americans do not realize how important immigrants are to the food they buy, Lunemann added. "The average consumer doesn't understand that the hands of immigrants are touching all the food that is on their table."
In a time when President Donald Trump has made immigration a major national issue, the ag community is watching carefully.
Mexican immigrants are well known as vegetable field workers in California, but they now are working on farms all the way to the East Coast. In the Midwest, they make up much of the workforce at many meat and poultry processing plants.
In recent years, immigrants from places like Somalia started coming in increasing numbers, with some taking agriculture-related jobs.
Ludemann is chairman of AgriGrowth, an organization that brings together farmers, agri-businesses and others interested in promoting the industry. While he visited the Capitol to talk to Forum News Service and other media organizations about state issues, he also delved into federal policies such as immigration.
The group, with Executive Director Perry Aasness, places immigration reform among its top five federal issues because of the rural Minnesota labor shortage.
"Providing a sustainable workforce for Minnesota's agricultural sector is critical to our state and our nation's economic prosperity," an AgriGrowth fact sheet reads.
How the Trump administration deals with trade, especially with countries like China and Mexico, will impact Minnesota agriculture.
Trump's plan to build a wall along the Mexican border may not have a big impact on ag by itself, Aasness said, but placing a surcharge on imports to fund the wall could cause a trade war that would hurt.
Knowing that Trump is in the White House because of rural American voters, Aasness said that there is hope that he will treat agriculture well.
Free tax help open
Older Minnesotans and others not able to pay for assistance filling out income tax returns can get help.
The state Revenue Department said there are more than 220 sites around Minnesota where Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, AARP Tax-Aide and other programs are available. They are staffed by volunteers.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance help is available to people at least 60 years old, those with disabilities, residents who speak limited or no English or with an income less than $54,000 a year. The AARP offers free help to all taxpayers, but especially those 50 and older.
"Qualifying taxpayers should take advantage of the hundreds of certified volunteers who are offering their time to ensure taxpayers are able to file their taxes accurately and on time while receiving the refundable credits they may qualify for," Revenue Commissioner Cynthia Bauerly said.
Taxpayers may call (800) 657-3989 or visit www.revenue.state.mn.us. A link on the front page of the website goes to the free taxpayer help page.
Public service help available
Minnesota public service workers may get their student loans forgiven under a new state law.
The Minnesota Office of Higher Education reports it has information ready to help workers in government, military and nonprofit organizations figure out if they qualify.
"Minnesota college graduates carry some of the highest debt loads in the country, with the median debt topping $27,000," Lt. Gov. Tina Smith said. "I encourage all Minnesota college graduates working in government, serving in the military or working for a nonprofit to contact the Office of Higher Education about the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program."
The information is at www.ohe.state.mn.us.
GOP sets new deadline
Minnesota legislators seem to wait until the state Constitution orders them to adjourn before making their major decisions.
But the new state Senate Republican majority and the returning House majority plan to pass all major spending bills by March 31, well before their constitutional May 22 adjournment date.
"The Legislature and governor have regrettably earned the reputation that we can't work together to get things done in a timely manner," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said. "Frankly, I think Minnesotans are annoyed and embarrassed by the chaos they witness at the end of every session."
Historically, the legislative finance deadline has been set an average of 28 days prior to session adjournment. The new plan sets that at 52 days.
It could be a long walk
Urban Minnesota legislators may have a bit to learn about rural Minnesota.
Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, tells a story about a group of lawmakers from the Twin Cities traveling to his southwestern Minnesota district.
"They ran out of gas on their way to Worthington," Hamilton said. "They didn't understand the towns were so far apart."