This issue of AG ONE Newsletter is longer than the usual two pages. This comes from the fact that this summer has seen an incredible number of areas of interest to Agriculture take center stage. Personally, I think this level of activity on Agriculture is unprecedented.
Sincerely, Vince Phillips
AGRICULTURE BUDGET RESULTS
In the FY 2019-20 State Budget, there are many outcomes about which the Agriculture Community can be pleased. The law is Act 1A of 2019 (House Bill 790). Highlights:
- PA Department of Agriculture General Government Operations was increased from $32.299 million to $33.731 million.
- Items deleted in the original State Budget proposal were restored: Hardwoods marketing, Livestock and Consumer Health Protection, Livestock Show, Open Dairy Show, etc.
- There was a nominal increase in Penn State College of Agricultural Sciences Research and Extension from $53.882 million to $54.960 million. The University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine received a slight increase from $31.039 to $31.660 million.
- Remaining constant were funding for the Fairs, the University of Pennsylvania Center for Infectious Diseases, Food Market Coupons, Center for Rural PA, etc.
Of course, there are many more line items affecting Agriculture. They are found in different places in HB 790. Following is a link to HB 790. PA Department of Agriculture line items begin on page 205. DEP budget line items begin on page 237.
If you wish to see a summary comparing monies for line items in the 2018-19 Fiscal Year versus the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2019, please refer to the PA Office of the Budget.
THERE WERE SOME DISAPPOINTMENTS
Certainly nothing serious considering the overall success of Agriculture in the State Budget, but there were things worth noting. First, the rapid-response contingency fund to meet food threats such as Avian Influenza received $4 million instead of the requested $5 million. PA Agriculture Surplus System (PASS) received $1.5 million. PA State Council of Farm Organizations adopted a policy in May stating that the amount should be $3 million for PASS.)
Given the fact that agricultural program funding has been in a desert in recent years, these outcomes are not something causing great stress.
WATCH THE OTHER BUDGET BILLS
In addition to the spending bill (HB 790), there are other accompanying bills, the Fiscal Code Bill (Senate Bill 712), the Tax Code Bill (House Bill 262), and the Administrative Code Bill (House Bill 1461). These bills specify from where the money will come and how it will be spent.
Some items of interest to the Agricultural Community:
- The Tax Code Bill increases Resource Enhancement and Protection Farm Conservation Tax Credit (REAP) by $3 million. REAP also raised tax credits to $250,000 in any seven-year period. Tax credits can go up to 80 percent for high priority best management practices as determined by the State Conservation Commission.
- The Fiscal Code Bill has a provision providing $5 million to the Commonwealth Funding Authority for organic transition, processing and marketing grants. Senate Bill 623 (Schwank-R-Berks) sets the criteria for this funding to work. It is in the Senate Agriculture & Rural Affairs Committee.
- The Fiscal Code Bill includes a $20 million payment for Growing Greener 2 Bond’s debt service from the General Fund. The remainder of perhaps $6 million would come from the Environment Stewardship Fund.
ENVIRONMENTAL GROUPS DISTRESSED WITH BUDGET
The environmental community opposed Governor Wolf’s original proposal to take monies from the Environmental Stewardship Fund to fund normal government operations and environmental protection programs. Ultimately, their advocacy was unsuccessful with about $10 million leaving the Environmental Stewardship Fund for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and the Department of Conservation & Natural Resources (DCNR) in HB 790.
They were even unhappier with the Fiscal Code Bill (Senate Bill 712). SB 712 gives the Secretary of the Budget authority to transfer up to $45 million from any other fund under the Governor’s authority to the operating budgets of DEP and DCNR. The Fiscal Code Bill also includes a permanent authorization to transfer monies from the Recycling Fund for operating costs of DEP and DCNR. Additionally, the Marcellus Legacy Fund will no longer transfer $20 million a year to the Environmental Stewardship Fund and the Joint Legislative Air and Water Pollution Control and Conservation Committee will cease to exist July 1, 2021.
The Growing Greener Coalition said that the Environmental Stewardship Fund transfers could have planted 32,000 acres of stream buffers.
Thanks to Dave Hess and the Environmental Digest for contributing information vital to this issue of AG ONE Newsletter.
WOLF SIGNS MUTIPLE AG BILLS INTO LAW
Governor Tom Wolf signed a number of bills into law which affect the Agricultural Community.
- Act 28 (Senate Bill 338) increases allowable width for farm equipment to be 18 feet, up from the current 16 feet.
- Act 33 (House Bill 370) provides flexibility for protected farms regarding an additional residence.
- Act 34 (House Bill 1514) provides for the Farm to School program.
- Act 35 (House Bill 1516) creates a rapid response fund for threats to agriculture such as Avian Flu.
- Act 36 (House Bill 1520) sets forth criteria on how PA Preferred is to operate and also creates a program designed to help veterans to become farmers.
- Act 37 (House Bill 1526) re-establishes the low interest program known as Agriculture Linked Investment Program.
- Act 38 (House Bill 1590) creates the Dairy Investment Program.
- Act 39 (Senate Bill 634) establishes the Conservation Excellence Grant Program.
- Act 40 (Senate Bill 661) creates the Commonwealth Specialty Crop Program to supplement USDA’s grants by including such commodities as hemp or hops. It also establishes a grant program for urban agriculture, and restores a youth grant program.
- Act 65 (Senate Bill 478) provides a personal income tax credit for landowners who sell or lease land or equipment to beginning farmers.
- Act 66 (Senate Bill 585) establishes the PA Dairy Future Commission.
WOLF VETOES DAIRY BILL
The aura of good feelings surrounding these new laws was somewhat diminished by the July 2 veto of House Bill 915 that would have allowed milk haulers to be exempted from Interstate highway closures when a weather emergency is called. House Bill 915 (Causer-R-Cameron/McKean/Potter) received a veto-proof House majority during its legislative journey (136-61). The Senate vote was two short of a veto override (32-18).
In his veto message, the Governor said that HB 915 conflicts with the need for public safety, “In my view, such an exemption runs counter to the safety of the driving public.” House Majority Chair of the House Agriculture Marty Causer was quick to respond, “I’m not sure what the Governor fails to understand about the problems his travel bans have caused for our dairy industry, which is already struggling to stay afloat. You can spend all the money you want on things like developing the market for organics and increasing processing opportunities, but if you can’t get the milk off the farm, what’s the point?”
OTHER LEGISLATIVE NOTES:
- Sunday hunting legislation, Senate Bill 147 (Laughlin-R-Erie), passed the Senate on June 26 by a vote of 36-14. It has gone to the House where battle lines will again form. The original language was watered down in the Senate by reducing the number of Sunday hunting days to three. Separately, House Bill 102 (Maloney-R-Berks) passed the House back in May. It authorizes after school hunting/gun safety education for students taught by PA Game Commission certified instructors.
- House Resolution 222 (Lawrence-R-Chester) was adopted by the House on June 26. It asks the Federal Food & Drug Administration to enforce their existing rule regarding the mislabeling of non-dairy products calling themselves “milk” or “dairy”.
On July 26, the Senate adopted two Resolutions sponsored by Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R-York). They are Senate Resolution 47 which establishes a legislative task force committee on Broadband. Senate Resolution 48 directs the Legislative Budget & Finance Committee to review non-rural telecommunications companies to see if they are meeting their statutory requirements in providing Broadband to Pennsylvanians. Broadband access is a major priority of the PA State Council of Farm Organizations.