Friday, September 8, 2017

Lancaster Farmland Trust: House GOP Stopgap Budget Would Hurt County Farms

By Karen Martynick, Executive Director, Lancaster Farmland Trust

This op-ed appeared September 8 on

Lancaster County leads the nation in farmland preservation with over 100,000 acres of farmland permanently protected.  For 30 years, our community has embraced county, state and private efforts to preserve the most productive agricultural land in the country.  
Our success would not be possible without the commitment of elected officials and the support of residents who recognize that agriculture plays a critical role in our economy and our quality of life.   

A poll conducted by Lancaster Farmland Trust showed that 96 percent of residents believe that farmland preservation is an investment in our future and 92 percent think that elected officials should do more to protect farmland.  
With that level of support, there is no question that preserving farmland is a top priority for Lancaster County residents.
For several years, the state has struggled to balance its budget.  One-time “fixes” have been used to close previous budget gaps but the well of stop-gap measures has finally run dry – or, so we thought.
On Tuesday, 18 members of the House of Representatives - the Taxpayers Caucus - announced that they had found a way to balance the budget and close the $2.4 billion gap.  Their proposal would transfer so-called “excess” funds from special accounts – like farmland preservation – to the general fund.
While it sounds reasonable to use “reserves” to balance the budget, in fact, the funds are NOT excess cash sitting in unused accounts.  
They are funds that have been committed to local governments, nonprofit organizations and others to complete already approved projects.
Under this proposal, $27 million would be stripped from dedicated funding for farmland preservation.  These are funds that have been committed to preservation programs around the state.  
They are funds that have been promised to hard-working farm families who want to save their land forever.  
They are funds for projects already in the pipeline and for which much time and resources have been expended.  
They are funds that have been DEDICATED for farmland preservation but will now be used for whatever the legislature chooses.
Lancaster County alone would lose $4.1 million in farmland preservation funding – and, that is just for current projects.  
But, the fallout would not end with the current budget year.  The impact would continue to hamper farmland preservation efforts for years to come.
This raid on special funds doesn’t hurt just farmland preservation.  
The proposal would strip funds earmarked for parks and trails, environmental clean- up of our air and water, transportation and infrastructure improvements, educational programs and emergency management activities ... programs that provide critical services and sustain our quality of life.
Lancaster County farms contribute $6 billion to our economy each year.  One in five jobs is related to agriculture.  Seven million tourists come here every year to view our beautiful landscapes.  Our farms feed millions of people here and around the world.  
Farmland preservation protects the critical infrastructure needed for farming, it supports our economy and guarantees that the productive land we’ve been blessed with will continue to grow our food and support our families in perpetuity.
Taking funds promised to farmland preservation is misguided and ill-conceived.  It does not solve the state’s budget woes now or in the future.  
It’s time to stop fabricating one-time solutions and find sustainable ways to balance the budget while supporting critical – and popular – programs like farmland preservation.
For more information on programs and initiatives of the Trust, visit the Lancaster Farmland Trust website.
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