Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dept. Of Agriculture: House GOP Budget Plan Threatens Agriculture, Reneges On Promises To Farmers, Counties

In a letter to the chairs of the Senate and House Agriculture and Rural Affairs committees, Department of Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding Thursday expressed alarm at the implications of a recently unveiled plan by some state House members to balance the fiscal year 2017-18 budget.
In stark terms, Redding outlined how the plan’s mix of unsustainable fund transfers and other one-time measures threatens to undermine the state’s agriculture industry on a number of fronts, breaking long-standing commitments and partnerships between the state, counties, and producers, among others.
“The legislature adopted a good budget for Pennsylvania agriculture—particularly in light of the financial challenges facing our Commonwealth,” said Redding. “This latest plan from the House to fund that budget, though, threatens to undermine much of the good work we’ve done over the past two years and, such as with farmland preservation, over the course of decades. The Senate’s plan was responsible and sustainable. The House’s plan is neither.
“If we go down this route, we will be breaking commitments to farmers who want to preserve their farms and conservation districts that are helping farmers write plans and adopt best management practices, improving our water quality. We’ll be throwing the state’s racing industry into chaos, undermining all the bipartisan work we did two years ago to bring some stability and certainty there. And we’ll be cutting funding to targeted segments of the industry, such as the Center for Dairy Excellence, and foregoing potentially millions of dollars in private sector investments. It’s understandable why so many people are expressing grave concerns about this plan,” Redding added.
In his letter, Redding outlined concerns with proposed diversions of $27 million from the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund, which support the state’s Farmland Preservation Program; $27 million from the State Racing Fund, which supports the commonwealth’s racing industry, which generates millions in additional economic impact annually; and $3.3 million from the Conservation District Fund, which provides funding for staff, technical services, and special projects to county conservation districts.
Redding said proposed raids on the Agricultural Conservation Easement Purchase Fund and the Conservation District Fund amount to breaking commitments and partnerships between the state and not only producers, but also with counties.
Each of the dollars targeted by House Republicans for diversion to the General Fund have been committed to counties and, in many cases, counties have contributed their own funds on the promise of that state support. A table detailing the committed farmland preservation funding to each county that would be in jeopardy under the House plan is available here.
With the Racing Fund, the secretary noted the vast majority of the proposed $27 million transfer would come from the Pennsylvania Breeding Fund, the Pennsylvania Sire Stakes Fund, and the Pennsylvania Standardbred Breeders Development Fund.
Approximately 1,000 breeders and 2,500 horse owners benefit from these funds each year, and of the $22 million presently within these restricted funds, approximately $20 million is already committed to horse owners and breeders for this racing season which generations millions in economic activity in the Commonwealth.
The House GOP’s plan also calls for a 50 percent cut to important tax credit programs. This presumably includes the Resource Enhancement and Protection program, or REAP. Over the program’s 10-year history, REAP has provided nearly $90 million has been made available to help farmers offset the cost of new equipment purchases and best management practice installations—investments that are contributing to cleaner water.
That state investment has leveraged nearly $100 million more in private sector investment and prevented more than 1.75 million pounds of nitrogen, 105,000 pounds of phosphorus, and nearly 25,000 tons of sediment from reaching Pennsylvania’s waterways.
“If the alternative House funding plan is enacted, there will be fewer resources to encourage this type of good work—and that is the exact opposite of what we are trying to do as a Commonwealth that is also grappling with how to meet ever-present water quality improvement obligations, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay watershed,” Redding wrote in the letter.
Redding also reminded lawmakers that the House funding plan promises to keep certain appropriations to targeted segments of the agriculture industry unavailable.
The House plan would keep funding to the Agricultural Excellence; Agricultural Research; Agriculture Promotion, Education and Exports; Hardwoods Research and Promotion; Open Dairy Show; Livestock Show; Youth Shows; and Food Marketing and Research line items in budgetary reserve, meaning those appropriations are frozen and cannot be spent. Such a move means no support for upcoming shows like the All-American Dairy Show and the Keystone International Livestock Exposition—to be held later this month at the Farm Show Complex and Expo Center—or for organizations such as the Center for Dairy Excellence.
Click Here for a copy of the letter.
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