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KLUMB: The focus from this point forward

The second to last week of our session saw the wrapping up of my committee bill hearings, so now the only items of discussion in committee will be if any member has any subjects they would like to study more in depth during a summer study.

From this point forward, our primary focus will be on the budget and where we spend the approximately $18 million from better than expected revenue. Every year at the end of session, for those of us not on the Appropriations Committee, we decide where to spend what generally amounts to several million dollars worth of one time general fund dollars. So, this year with state employees not receiving a raise for the past several years, community support providers working for wages that fall below federal poverty and statutory requirements that demand we fund education to a certain level our choices really fall to these three areas, and beyond that the amount each group gets.

We've each been asked to give our priorities for these dollars, but in the end what gets the funding will be what a majority of the Legislature decides.

There has been much discussion of the precision ag project at South Dakota State University. This project combines engineering, mathematics, agronomics and environmental analysis to improve on traditional agricultural methods. Farmers, ranchers, foresters and others use these tools to optimize yields and profits while protecting our state's soil, water, livestock and wildlife.

SDSU is the first university in the nation to offer a BS degree in precision agriculture. The college is proposing to build a precision ag classroom and building and to remodel an ag hall building on campus. The proposed new building would replace a 1950s facility that cannot meet the needs of this program. Of course any project of this magnitude requires massive amounts of funding and still the question always falls to where is the money coming from?

The overall plan is estimated to cost around $46 million. At this time, the preliminary plan is that $16 million would come from private donations such as Raven Industries, the Corn Utilization Council, Ag Lenders and other industries. $11 million would come from SDSU. And $18.4 million will come in the form of a bond payment amounting to $1.2 million a year from various agricultural sources such as a small fee on fertilizer and an ethanol producer program that is sunsetting. $4 million at this time is proposed to come from one-time state general funds, however in the spirit of the legislature this $4 million may be fought over and the likely amount may be substantially less which would mean that more will have to be found from other donors.

This is the ag communities top priority this year and the list of ag groups that support this project is impressive. This big agenda item will undoubtedly take a few different turns before it's all said and done, but I think it is a worthy attempt to move forward with a one-of-a-kind project that will have long lasting effect on the nation's ability to provide adequate amounts food that is safe and nutritious for many generations to come.

With only one week of session left I'm sure the upcoming week, (by the time you read this will be well underway) will bring with it the decision of what areas will get the extra funding dollars and the culmination of many other issues.

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