HARRISBURG – On October 6, the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee will convene a Harrisburg informational meeting on Genetically Modified Organism (GMO’s) labeling. List of witnesses was not available at press time although the committee memo cites “nationally recognized scientists” as witnesses. Details: Mary Geiger 717-783-1522.
The Pa. Department of Agriculture survived the state budget gauntlet in Harrisburg for Fiscal Year 2014-15 which began July 1. PSCFO wrote legislative leaders June 29 to say “Many of PSCFO’s sixty-plus agricultural organizations are directly affected by the staff capacity at PDA. In this case, a modest increase will stabilize the PDA budget and allow it to meet its directives from the General Assembly.” Following are a number of PDA budget line items compared with the last fiscal year.
Line Item 2014-15 Enacted Budget 2013-14 Available Change
General Gov’t Operations 25.269 million 22.703 million +11.3%
Ag Excellence 1.1 million 600,000 +83.3%
Farmers’ Market Coupons 2.079 million 2.079 million same
Ag Research 787,000 787,000 same
Promotion, Ed. & Exports 250,000 196,000 +27.6%
Hardwoods Promotion 350,000 350,000 same
Livestock Show 177,000 177,000 same
Open Dairy Show 177,000 177,000 same
Youth Shows 140,000 140,000 same
State Food Purchase 17.438 million 17.438 million same
Marketing & Research 494,000 494,000 same
Nutrient Management 2.714 million 2.714 million same
Conservation Districts 869,000 869,000 same
Land Scrip Fund 46.237 million 46.237 million same
(NOTE: This is not what Penn State Ag Research and Extension was budgeted for last year. Comparison is for the available funds, not the budget-approved amount.)
PA Preferred 550,000 550,000 same
UPenn Veterinary 28 million 28 million same
UPenn Infectious Disease 261,000 261,000 same
On July 10, Governor Corbett signed the new state budget into law but expressed dismay in that the General Assembly did not pass pension reform, something he said had to be done. To send a message, he vetoed $65 million in monies out of the funds allocated to the General Assembly. He also vetoed items on which the media did not report:
- Dept. Environmental Protection $150,000 (environmental program management)
- Dept. Environmental Protection $700,000 (sewage facilities planning grants)
- Treasury Department $45,000 (general gov’t operations)
- Dept. Community & Economic Development $250,000 (financial institution grants)
- Dept. Community & Economic Development $300,000 (Intergovernmental Cooperation Authority)
- Dept. Conservation & Natural Resources $$500,000 (parks)
- Labor & Industry $250,000 (general government operations)
- Civil Air Patrol $100,000
- Dept. General Services $5 million (rental, relocation and municipal charges)
- Reduce Machinery & Equipment Loan Fund from $100 million to $85 million
- Small Business First Loan Fund (for agriculture, tourism, manufacturing) from $100 to $95 million
It’s crunch time to enact the State Budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2014. It’s all about money since revenue projections for this year were not met, $108 million short in May for example.
Governor’s Budget Cuts Many Ag Areas
Agriculture has a huge stake in the outcome given numbers of specific line items not included in Governor Corbett’s original proposal: PA Preferred, Centers for Dairy and Beef Excellence, agricultural research funding in the PDA budget – adequate funding for Penn State’s Cooperative Extension/Agricultural Research is another important issue.
PDA Cuts Not Restored
The initial vehicle for the Budget is House Bill 2328 (Adolph-R-Delaware) which was reported out of the House Appropriations Committee June 9 and re-referred to the House Rules Committee June 11. It reinstates many of the proposed Agriculture cuts but does not include the Governor’s request for an increase in PDA’s General Government Operations budget. Senate vehicle is Senate Bill 1431.
The 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.
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.
- The PA House April 9 passed two environmental resolutions. House Resolution 764 (Marsico-R-Dauphin) recognized April 25 as Arbor Day promoting the value of trees to the environment.
- House Resolution 765 (Miller-R-York) encourages Pennsylvanians to observe the 44th Earth Day on April 22.
- April 13-19 was Rural Road Safety Week
- PDA announced that April is invasive pest month and the April 11 PDA Newsletter provided a USDA link, http://hungrypests.com/
After spending a month with appropriations hearings, the General Assembly is back in session. Matters to note:
- On March 10 the House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee amended Senate Bill 1181 (Vogel-R-Beaver) to transfer $4.2 million from the Race Horse Development Fund to the State Racing Fund to provide resources to the PA Racing Commission to perform its regulatory responsibilities.
- House Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee Chair John Maher (R-Washington/Allegheny) distributed sponsorship memos to House members regarding a resolution to congratulate Cooperative Extension Service on its 100th anniversary and a second resolution recognizing April 1 as Farm Bureau Day. Status: No resolution numbers yet
- A House Professional Licensure Committee hearing on licensing of professional soil scientists (House Bill 997 sponsored by Rep. Scott Petri-R-Bucks) has been set for May 7.
- On February 4, the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee reported out Senate Bill 1149 (Brubaker-R-Lancaster) relating to the application of fertilizer on turf areas (lawns, athletic fields and golf courses). Two other bills reported out by the committee February 4 were: SB 1188 (Vogel-R-Beaver) amending the Race Horse Industry Reform Act and SB 1107 (Alloway-R-Franklin) stating that if a kennel license is revoked, no new kennel licenses will be issued to a person who is a member of the same family nor to any person residing at the address of the current (revoked) licensee.
- House Bill 1440 (Boback-R-Luzerne) is still on hold in the Senate. It would exempt high tunnel buildings from the Uniform Construction Code.