Notes from the Capitol
By Paul Anderson, State Representative, District 12B
Minnesota continues to be “ground zero” for this latest round of highly pathogenic bird flu which, so far, has impacted 26 states to varying degrees.
The latest count has 43 confirmed sites in our state, with nearly two million birds affected. Seventeen counties have had positive locations, stretching from the Rochester area in the south to around Detroit Lakes in the north. To date, 38 commercial sites have tested positive, in addition to five backyard flocks. In our area, Kandiyohi County has reported six outbreaks, Stearns five, with Swift and Big Stone counties each having one. Morrison County has the most outbreaks in the state with seven. Nationally, the count is 144 commercial sites and 53 backyard flocks.
Our neighbor to the west, South Dakota, has also been hit hard, with 35 positive sites so far. Iowa, the nation’s leading egg producer, has had positive tests at two large laying operations that resulted in the depopulation of 13 million chickens.
That’s a big part of the reason we’ve seen a rapid increase in the price of eggs. Minnesota is the leading state for turkey production, so it stands to reason most of the positive locations reported here have been in turkey flocks. This avian flu will also have an impact on the price of turkeys at the store, how much so depends on the duration of the outbreak. According to state veterinarian Dr. Beth Thompson, the virus that causes bird flu likes cold, damp weather similar to what we’ve experienced most of this spring season so far. The 2015 outbreak didn’t subside until we had warmer weather in May.
One of the last items taken up by the Legislature before we adjourned for the Easter/Passover break was passing emergency funding for the Department of Agriculture. The $1 million appropriation will provide testing and other materials necessary for the department’s work against bird flu. It’s anticipated that additional money will be needed soon and could possibly be added to the drought relief bill that’s scheduled to be worked on by a joint House-Senate conference committee. I serve on that committee and we anticipate starting to meet shortly after returning to the Capitol on Tuesday.
Just over five weeks remain in the current legislative session as this non-budget year is taking on the look of a regular budget session. That’s because of the well-publicized state surplus and various groups wanting a piece of it. A cautionary note has to do with using this one-time money for projects that become locked into the base budget and become annual expenses. The surplus has largely been caused by increased consumer spending resulting in higher sales tax receipts, and higher income tax revenue brought on by increases in wages. The underlying cause of all this spending is the mountain of federal money that came into our state from Washington, some $72 billion, as the result of the programs designed to lessen the effects of the pandemic.
Those programs have largely ended, and what we are left with is inflation, currently at the highest rate in 40 years. Two of the largest price increases are for fuel, up 49 percent in the past year, and used cars, up 35 percent. Prices at the grocery store are also up, but by lesser amounts. Consumers, especially those on fixed incomes, are being hit hard.
Another cost increase coming our way is from federal bankers trying to slow down inflation by raising interest rates. Long term mortgage rates are going up, which will probably put the brakes on the housing market. And short term rates are also trending higher, which will affect those carrying balances on their credit cards.
My feeling is that the economy is heading for a contraction, and caution should be advised as Minnesota makes judicious use of its surplus. These current conditions won’t last forever!