AG ONE Newsletter November 19, 2017

BUDGET FOLLOW UP

Despite enactment of the State Budget, there are still some loose ends.

  • Up in the air is Governor Wolf’s plan to take out what amounts to an equity loan on the state-owned Harrisburg Farm Show Complex.  His goal was to have the state receive a $200 million loan which would have to be repaid to the lender over 30 years.  There is speculation over the legality of such a move.  The bidding period closed November 13.
  • The medical malpractice insurer of last resort, the PA Professional Liability Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), sued the Commonwealth for what it says is illegally taking $200 million out of the insurer’s reserves to help balance the State Budget. (Act 44).
  • Governor Wolf has dropped his plan to borrow against future profits from the PA Liquor Control Board after the PA Commonwealth Financing Authority approved plans to borrow $1.5 billion from future Tobacco Settlement monies coming into the state. (Act 43 of 2017)
  • Unknown as of November 19 is from which dedicated funds Governor Wolf will take $300 million.  Thanks to authority given to him by the General Assembly in order to pass State Budget revenue bills, Governor Wolf can choose from as few or as many he wants.  Of concern to the agricultural industry are special funds such as the Conservation District Fund and others dedicated to agricultural and conservation efforts.

WORKERS’ COMPENSATION RATE HIKE POSTPONED

A 6.06% increase in Workers’ Compensation premiums that would have taken effect November 1 has been delayed as reported by the Central Penn Business Journal due to a challenge from the PA Association for Justice (trial lawyers). Details were not released by the Insurance Department but the following was given in response to a query from Phillips Associates:  While the PCRB proposed a November 1, 2017 effective date in the filing, the Department can use up to 180 days to review the filing in accordance with Article VII of the Workers Compensation Act.  While we don’t anticipate needing the full 180 days contemplated by the law, we have not yet completed our review… If the filing is ultimately approved…there would be an amended effective date as we are now past the November 1, 2017 effective date proposed by the PCRB and cannot approve rates retroactively.

POLITICS

  • Former PA Secretary of Agriculture Denny Wolff is running for the Democratic nomination for the congressional seat being vacated by U.S. Rep. Barletta who is seeking the nomination to oppose Senator Casey in 2018.
  • PA Rep. Rick Saccone (R-Washington/Allegheny) was chosen as the GOP candidate in the special election to succeed resigned U.S. Representative Tim Murphy.  He defeated two PA Senators, Kim Ward and Guy Reschenthaler to win the Republican nomination.  The special election will take place March 13.  The winner would serve out the remainder of Murphy’s term, meaning that the winner faces a re-election contest in November 2018.
  • House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) announced his candidacy for the Republican nominee for Governor on November 14.  His announcement brings to four the Republicans vying for the nomination: Senator Scott Wagner (R-York), Allegheny County health consultant Paul Mango and Pittsburgh attorney Laura Ellsworth. 
  • January 25 is the date of the special election to replace Rep. Marc Gergely (D-Allegheny).  This district is traditionally Democratic.  Rep. Gergely was forced to step down after pleading guilty to violating gambling laws.
  • State Representative Justin Simmons (R-Northampton/Lehigh/Montgomery) has withdrawn from the contest for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Representative Charles Dent.

BILLS SIGNED BY GOVERNOR

Signed by the Governor October 30 was House Bill 790 (controlled and noxious weeds) which is now Act 46 of 2017. Prime sponsor is House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne). House Bill 176 (Pickett-R-Bradford) is now Act 35 after being signed by Governor Wolf October 25.  It exempts roadside marketing stands and some animal feeding operations from Uniform Construction Code (UCC) building requirements.

QUICK LOOK AT LEGISLATIVE UPDATES

  • Senate Bill 740 (Aument-R-Lancaster) continues Universal Service Fund (land-lines for rural areas).  Status: Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee
  • Senate Bills 819 and 820 (Aument) agritourism liability are in Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee and Senate Judiciary Committees respectively.
  • House Bill 544 (Moul-R-Adams) is in the House Appropriations Committee.
  • House Bill 577 (Everett-R-Lycoming) Marcellus natural gas royalty 12.5% guarantee to leaseholders is in the House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee.  There is also a discharge resolution to have the full House take up the matter, bypassing the committee.
  • House Bill 944 (M. Keller-R-Perry) Commission for Agriculture Education is in the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.

GRANTS

  • Up to $1,600.00 from KidsGardening can go to nonprofit, school, or youth programs that plan a new garden or expand an existing one.  Deadline for applications is December 8, 2017.  info@kidsgardening.org ; 802-660-4604
  • Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) grant applications are due December 5, 2017.  Awards are capped at $15,000 and applicants must work with a technical advisor such as an Extension educator or private crop consultant.  Details: http://www.northeastsare.org

AG ONE Newsletter October 30, 2017

BUDGET SAGA (FINALLY) ENDS

Update:

Please note the following updates to the AG ONE Newsletter below posted earlier today. These were signed into law today by Governor Tom Wolf:


HB 790
sponsored by House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) (controlled and noxious weeds) is Act 46

HB 542
Tax Code (taxes on fireworks, $1.5 billion loan from Tobacco Settlement, etc.) is now Act 43.

HB 785 Capital Facilities Debt Act (state indebtedness levels) is now Act 45.

HB 674 Fiscal Code (takes $200 million from an insurance company reserves; gives Governor discretion as to where $300 million will come from dedicated funds) is now Act 44

HB 118
(Labor & Industry inspection fees) is now Act 40.

SB 651
Capital Budget (authorization wish list for wide variety of state bricks and mortar projects) is now Act 52.

HB 271 (expands gambling in hopes of generating $200 million more revenue to the state) is now Act 42.

*****

With House action October 25 and 26, the revenue side to the State Budget was sent to Governor Wolf for his signature.  He has ten days to approve, veto, or let the legislation go into effect without his signature.  Some major elements include:

  • Borrowing of $1.5 billion from future payments to Pennsylvania from the Tobacco Master Settlement to be paid back within 30 years  NOTE:  House Bill 542, page 271 http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0542&pn=2598
  • Taking $200 million from reserves held by the Joint Underwriting Association (JUA), the medical malpractice insurer of last resort.  The Administrative Code bill specifies that if JUA does not hand over the money by December 1st, it will be abolished.  JUA says that it is illegal for the state to “seize” insurance company reserves and that it will sue to prevent this from occurring.  NOTE: House Bill 674, Article II-D, section 201-D  page 14: Similar language is found in House Bill 118 but this specifies that the Supreme Court shall have exclusive jurisdiction to hear any challenge. http://www.legis.state.pa.us/CFDOCS/Legis/PN/Public/btCheck.cfm?txtType=PDF&sessYr=2017&sessInd=0&billBody=H&billTyp=B&billNbr=0674&pn=2624
  • $200 million to come from gambling expansion (House Bill 271)
  • Senate Bill 651, the Capitol Budget, is a bricks and mortar wish list for projects funded by the Commonwealth.  Just because projects are listed here does not mean that the money is actually there. This is an authorization bill.  Examples for Capital Budget items might be a new barn for the Farm Show complex or significant upgrading to a state building HVAC system.
  • New Labor & Industry inspection fees schedule (boilers, elevators, ski lifts, etc. are found in Administrative Code bill, House Bill 118 starting on page 12.  www.legis.state.pa.us
  • New taxes on fireworks: 12% for consumers buying fireworks; annual fees ranging from $2,000 to $20,000 for permanent structures selling fireworks; and $3,000 per year for temporary structures.  One miscellaneous insurance provision is a $50,000 bond requirement for municipal fireworks displays.  (HB 542 page 257 dealing with new taxes on fireworks)

FARM SHOW LOAN IN LIMBO

In limbo is the Governor’s unilateral decision October 4 to borrow ahead (“securitize”) future profits from the PA Liquor Control Board and his October 9 pronouncement that PA would take out an equity loan on the Farm Show Complex owned by the state.  His rationale was that he would take budget matters into his own hands, absent a legislative resolution to the State Budget impasse. PSCFO has requested a meeting with Governor Wolf to discuss the Farm Show Complex loan issue.

AND…THERE IS A SLEEPER BUDGET ISSUE.

House Bill 674 contains this section:  SECTION 1726-G.FUND TRANSFERS.

DURING THE 2017-2018 FISCAL YEAR, $300,000,000 SHALL BE

TRANSFERRED FROM AMOUNTS AVAILABLE IN SPECIAL FUNDS AND

RESTRICTED ACCOUNTS TO THE GENERAL FUND.

This is the ultimate outcome of those seeking to balance the State Budget by taking monies from over 50 specified dedicated funds.  The Senate derailed that notion but this final language gives the Governor the discretionary authority to decide from which funds this $300 million shall come.  HB 674 does not contain language limiting his choices so they might or might not be  agriculture or environmental funds. PSCFO sent a heads up memo to Council members about this section.

SENATE BANKING & INSURANCE COMMITTEE HOLDS RX PRICE HEARING

On October 23, the Senate Banking & Insurance Committee convened a prescription drug price transparency hearing relative to Senate Bill 637 (White-R-Indiana).  It presented starkly contrasting views between the pharmaceutical industry which maintained that manufacturing costs increases are quite reasonable versus insurers and prescription benefit managers (PBMs) which pointed accusing fingers at the drug industry for unwarranted price increases.  Testimony also came from the PA State Grange which said that price transparency could give insurance companies the ability to negotiate more effectively because they could compare pricing practices between states, such as a hypothetical Epi-pen charge of $150 in one state versus $600 in PA.

WEED BILL GOES TO GOVERNOR (No, not that weed…)

Presented to the Governor October 25 was House Bill 790 regarding controlled and noxious weeds.  Prime sponsor is House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne).

EXPECT WORKERS’ COMPENSATION HIKES

The PA Compensation Rating Bureau (PCRB) revised loss cost filing goes into effect November 1st. This translates into a general increase in Workers’ Compensation premiums of 6.06%, necessary to adapt to the Supreme Court striking down a major provision of the Workers’ Compensation Act regarding permanent  impairment evaluation standards.

YOUTH GARDENING GRANTS up to $500 will be awarded by Katie’s Krops.  Eligible are youths aged 9-16.  Harvests must be donated to food banks.  Application deadline is December 31.  Details:  http://www.katieskrops.com/start-a-garden.html House Bill 790 (Pashinski-D-Luzerne) passed the Senate 49-0 on October 18 and was referred to the House Rules Committee.  The House now must consider amendments made to the bill in the Senate.

AG ONE Newsletter May 17, 2017

REDDING TAKES AIM AT HOUSE BILL 218

At a May 10 hearing of the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee, PA Secretary of Agriculture Russell Redding warned legislators that the House Republican State Budget bill (House Bill 218) could endanger a number of core PDA functions:

  • A $2 million cut from what Governor Wolf proposed in February
  • Losing 21 positions in areas such as restaurant health and safety inspections
  • $407,000 less for the Nutrient Management Fund, leaving the fund in a deficit position by mid-2019
  • Conservation district cuts ($130,000 from PDA and $376,000 from the Department of Environmental Protection budget) could force districts to cut positions and services.

Secretary Redding also sent a letter to the General Assembly stating much of what was in his May 10 testimony, a link to which follows: http://www.agriculture.pa.gov/Pages/Letter-to-Legislature.aspx

REAL ID PROGRESSING

On May 10, Senate Bill 133 (Ward-R-Westmoreland) was referred to the House Appropriations Committee after a contentious session of the House State Government Committee which amended the bill along party lines May 8.  This legislation brings PA into compliance with the REAL ID Act of 2005, a Federal law requiring an upgrade to state systems of personal identification.  If PA does not comply with legislation in June, the consequence is that a driver’s license will NOT be accepted as identification on boarding commercial flights or providing access to Federal offices (Social Security, Farm Services Agency, military bases, etc.) in 2018.  The issue was an amendment in the House State Government Committee creating a two-tier system which allows Pennsylvanians to keep and use current ID if they choose.  Anyone going for the upgrade would have to pay for it, cost unknown.

POLLINATOR ISSUES SUBJECT OF STATE FORUM

On May 22, the Joint Legislative Conservation Committee will hold an Environmental Issues Forum in Harrisburg to profile Pennsylvania’s bee decline and its impact on agriculture.  For example, PA fruit crops depend on pollination with over 90% of the apple crop relying on honeybees.  The session will also look at ways to reverse the bees’ decline.  Details: Mike Nerozzi 717-787-7570, mnerozzi@jcc.legis.state.pa.us

OTHER LEGISLATION OF INTEREST

  • Fair Dealership Act legislation was introduced by Rep. Will Tallman (R-Cumberland/Adams).  House Bill 1348 is the top priority of PSCFO member Northeast Equipment Dealers Association.  The group argues that the bill is necessary to ensure accessibility to equipment options for agriculture producers.  On May 14, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations wrote to House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Majority Chair Martin Causer (R-McKean/Potter/Cameron) and Minority Chair Eddie Day Pashinski (D-Luzerne) asking for prompt committee consideration of the legislation.
  • New Senator John DiSanto’s (R-Dauphin/Perry) first major legislation was reported out by the Senate Rules Committee May 8.  Senate Bill 561 gives the General Assembly veto power over any regulation with an economic impact to the Commonwealth, its’ units of government, or the private sector exceeding one million dollars.  The legislative language suggests that Notices in the PA Bulletin, a less formal way to implementing policies, would not be governed by this bill.  Often, an agency will use Notices to inform as to its policy or change in policy.

GAME COMMISSION PROPOSES RULES

On May 13, the PA Game Commission published several proposed rules in the May 13 PA Bulletin, the links to which follow: Hunting and trapping; general ; Lands and buildings—special wildlife management areas; hunting and furtaker licenses—antlerless deer licenses ; Special permits; deer control

APPLE GROWERS ADOPT APPLE PROGRAM

Announced by the PA Department of Agriculture May 6 were results from an April referendum as to whether PA should reinstitute its Apple Program. The vote was 103 producers for and 48 against with six ballots ruled ineligible.  Link to the text of the Program Order follows: http://www.pabulletin.com/secure/data/vol47/47-18/770.html

FSMA/RISK MANAGEMENT SEMINAR in TAMAQUA JUNE 1st

In conjunction with Schuylkill County’s legislative delegation and with financial support from the PA Department of Agriculture, the PA State Council of Farm Organizations is offering a no-cost seminar on Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) compliance to produce farmers in the region. Held June 1 in Tamaqua, It will cover elements of a farm risk management plan which includes food safety, Crop Insurance, and information on what to ask an insurance agent to make sure that farmers’ insurance needs are met.  Details: 717-232-9665, xenobun@aol.com. Thanks to PSCFO members such as PA Vegetable Growers Association, PA State Grange, PA Association of Conservation Districts, PennAG Industries Association, MidAtlantic Farm Credit, and others for helping spread the word.   Also, PSCFO member PA Farmers Union is planning FSMA compliance webinars.  Details: www.pafarmersnion.org

PDA Focuses on Crop Insurance

At AG Progress Days and again August 27, the PA Department of Agriculture is zeroing on the need for insurance agents to fully understand provisions of the Farm Bill which made risk management and Crop Insurance the major safety net for agricultural producers. At AG Progress Days, an Early Riser examined new diversified crops whole-farm protection. The August 27 15th Annual Crop Insurance Conference program heard from Secretary Redding, the Administrator of USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) plus numbers of experts in farm credit, agricultural economic outlook and specific programs promoted by the PA Center for Dairy Excellence on reducing dairy farmers’ input costs. Details: Jordan Stasyszyn jstasyszyn@pa.gov.

Crop Insurance News

PDA issued the following on Crop Insurance. Details: www.cropinsurancepa.com, 717/787-6901

  • Enrollment for the Dairy Margin Protection Program began July 1 and ends September 30.
    The program was established as part of the Farm Bill.
  • PDA will conduct an Early Riser on Crop Insurance August 19 at AG Progress Days.
  • The 15th Annual PA Crop Insurance Conference will be held in Harrisburg August 27.

Crop Insurance Self Certification Due June 1

USDA_logoAgricultural producers seeking Federal Crop Insurance subsidies in 2015 must verify that they are controlling erosion on vulnerable fields and protecting wetlands. This also applies to orchards and vineyards. Form AD-1026 must be on file with the USDA Farm Service Agency (FSA): http://forms.sc.egov.usda.gov/efcommon/eFileServices/eForms/AD1026.PDF

Deadlines, Deadlines…

  • Calendar-iconFebruary 24, 2015: deadline to submit pre-proposals for USDA’s Conservation Innovation Grants for “environmental markets and conservation projects that engage agricultural producers.”  Details: http://go.usa.gov/4Kvx  Sylvia Rainford 202/720-2536.
  • February 27, 2015 deadline for Conservation Stewardship Program for ranchers and forest landowners.  Applications should be submitted to local Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) offices.  Details: www.nrcs.usda.gov/GetStarted
  • February 27, 2015, deadline to submit Federal Specialty Crop Block Grant proposals to Morgan Sheffield, PDA Bureau of Market Development 717/787-3568.
  • March 2, 2015: Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence for “projects that promote environmental stewardship and economic development in the state.”  Projects must have been completed between August 1, 2013 and July 31, 2014.  Example areas:  Innovative Technology; Energy Solutions; Environmental Education; Watershed Restoration.  Only electronic nominations (including self) will be accepted. Details: http://files.dep.state.pa.us/AboutDEP/AwardsAndInnovation/GovernorAwardForEnvExcellence/2015%20GAEE%20Guidelines%20Final.pdf
  • March 9, 2015:  deadline for Resource Enhancement and Protection (REAP) program.  REAP provides tax credits to agricultural producers who install best management practices or purchase on-farm no-till equipment that reduces soil erosion and sedimentation in PA’s streams and rivers.  Applications are available at www.pda.state.pa.us/REAP under ‘Forms’ or Joel Semke, State Conservation Commission 717/705-4032.
  • March 15, 2015: Crop Insurance enrollment deadline for new AGR-Lite whole farm revenue new applications; spring barley, corn, forage seeding (spring), grain sorghum, oats (spring), soybeans, tobacco.  (Thanks to Penn State Professor of Agricultural Economics Jayson Harper)   PDA contact is Jordan Stasyszn 717/6901

Dairy Margin Protection Program Deadline Extended

USDA_logoOn December 4, one day before the original deadline, USDA announced that the application deadline for the Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) will be extended until December 19, 2014.  Established by the 2014 Farm Bill, the program protects participating dairy producers when the margin -difference between price of milk and feed costs – falls below the level of protection selected by the applicant.  USDA also urged agricultural producers to utilize an Internet resource, www.fsa.usda.gov/mpptool, to calculate the best levels of coverage applicable to their dairy operation.  PA Secretary of Agriculture George Grieg noted that producers should see that the cost is only a  $100 administrative fee in order to have a $4 margin that covers 90% of the farm’s annual production.  In addition to the Farm Services Agency (www.fsa.usda.gov ), PDA‘s risk management specialist, Jordan Stasyszyn may be reached at 717/705-9511 or jstasyszyn@pa.gov.

Crop Insurance Initiatives from USDA

USDA logo crop insuranceWASHINGTON, D.C. – Crop Insurance Initiatives from USDA were advanced by USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack in a September 25 media release.  Two new programs, Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC), are meant to provide farmers with an alternative to direct payment programs eliminated by the 2014 Farm Bill.  Both of these new programs offer protection when market forces cause substantial drops in crop prices and/or revenues.  USDA also announced a farmer resource to help calculate what each program could mean to them.  (www.fsa.usda.gov/arc-pic)

September 29 marks the first date when farmers may visit their local Farm Service Agency office if they wish to update their yield history and/or reallocate base acres — the first step before choosing which program is best suited to meeting their specific risk management needs.  NOTE:  Although not referenced in the USDA release, farmers should also be contacting their Crop Insurance agent on a regular basis to keep aware of developments in the new ARC and PLC programs. Agent locator: www.rma.usda.gov.