General Assembly Resumes in June

Pa-capitol-300x250The PA General Assembly is readying itself for the June state budget gauntlet where a balanced budget must be signed into law per the constitutional deadline of June 30. To see Governor Corbett’s original proposal for agricultural spending, please refer to the Pa. Budget Office website. PA Department of Agriculture’s budget proposal begins at E8.1 (on page 387). The Farm Show budget is found at C5.1 (page 167). Click here to view PDA’s budget.

Funding for General Government Operations would increase from $22.7 million in available funds now to a proposed $24.738 million for FY 2014-15. This increase does not mean expanded programs. Rather, much of it will go towards meeting increased employee benefits (health insurance) costs.

However, the Corbett budget proposal eliminates funding for numerous successful programs including PA Preferred, the Centers of Agricultural Excellence, Agricultural Research, Agricultural Promotion, Education & Exports, Hardwoods Research & Promotion, Animal Health Commission, Livestock Show, Open Dairy Show, etc.

IMPORTANT NOTE: The Corbett budget proposal (as with former Governor Rendell) treats these zeroed out line items as negotiating items with the General Assembly. It does not mean that agricultural advocates can rest because budgets have been restored in the past. Each budget year requires renewed advocacy so that those line items are not overlooked. The Farm Show Fund anticipates $415,000 in fees and licensing income, $4 million from the PA Race Horse Development Fund and Farm Show leasing income of $6.155 million.

Bleak Budget Forecast

budget paIn April, normally a good month in revenue collections, PA collected $3.4 billion in general revenue which was $328.3 million or 8.8% less than anticipated. YTD collections were $23.9 billion by April 30 or 1.7% below projections. This apparently does not take into account a recent court decision that reinstated PA’s share of Tobacco Settlement money.

There are two outcomes:

First, Governor Corbett is examining existing budgets to see where savings/cuts can be found so as to balance this year’s budget.

Second, June’s budget deliberations mean that some areas where he proposed increases such as in education may be in doubt as the state faces a new fiscal year even gloomier than this one.

Adding to the pain are warnings from those assessing Pennsylvania’s fiscal solvency that continued inaction on resolving the pension crisis means a credit downgrade for the Commonwealth.

USDA Rural Development Invites REAP Applications

USDA RD TagUSDA is seeking applications from small businesses and agricultural producers for funding (both loans and grants) to make energy efficiency improvements or to install renewable energy systems. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) has $12.3 million in grants and $57.8 million in loan guarantees. Businesses not involved directly in production agriculture may also apply.

Mentioned in the USDA announcement was a PA veterinary practice in Curryville, Blair County, PA which received a $10,525 REAP grant to install solar panels on his roof. Details: Dawn Bonsell 717-237-2286 or Jay Fletcher 202/690-0498.

USDA Lists Farm Bill Food Project Opportunities

farm-bill-smUSDA May 8 announced that $78 million in Farm Bill resources for local and regional food systems including farmers markets, processing facilities, distribution services and other local food business enterprises is available.

This funding comes from Rural Development Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program (B&I) and the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) Farmers Market and Local Foods Promotion Program. AMS’ deadline is June 20, 2014.

B&I: http://www.rurdev.usda.gov/BCP_gar.html

AMS: http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/AMSgrants 

Farmers Market Coupons Begin June 1

Farmers marketAccording to a PDA, WIC recipients and low-income senior citizens can again receive assistance to purchase fresh PA fruits and vegetables through PDA’s Bureau of Food Distribution Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

Beginning June 1, qualified recipients can sign up to receive $20 in vouchers to purchase fresh products from approved farmers. Details: 800.468.2433.

Horse Racing Regulation Revamping Considered

The Pennsylvania Senate is considering Senate Bill 1188 (Vogel-R-Beaver) to reorganize the way PA horse racing is regulated. The bill would abolish the State Racing Commission and the State Harness Racing Commission and place those functions under the PA Gaming Control Board. Status: SB 1188 was re-referred to the Senate Appropriations Committee after being reported out of the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

Member News & Notes

  • Center for Dairy Excellence announced that post-secondary students pursuing a dairy-related career can apply for one of seven $3,000 Student Leader Scholarships supported by the Center for Dairy Excellence Foundation and the PA Dairymen’s Association. Apply by June 1. Click here for more information.
  • PA State Grange has two youth camps scheduled this summer at Camp Sylvan Hills in Howard, PA: June 27-29 Youth Camp and June 30-July 5 Junior Camp. Details: 717/737-8855
  • PA Farm Bureau is taking registrations for its Fueling Agriculture & Cultivating Excellence (FACE) conference for young farmers at Bucknell University June 16-20. Details: http://www.pfb.com/images/stories/2014_FACE_YC_RegBochure.pdf
  • PA Assn. for Sustainable Agriculture’s seventh annual Bike Fresh Bike Local fundraising effort to connect consumers to locally grown food starts June 1 (Allegheny County), Details: www.pasafarming.org