Republican state lawmakers wrapped up three weeks of annual budget hearings by tearing into Governor Tom Wolf’s administration for several hours straight. The crime, as they see it? Making what the GOP alleges is an unconstitutional deal to close this fiscal year’s budget deficit. When they ended a long, bitter budget standoff in October, lawmakers left a $300 million hole in their revenue plan for Wolf to fill with money from the state’s special funds. GOP lawmakers had pushed hard to tap the funds in lieu of new spending, and expected Wolf to reroute existing money. But instead, he filled most of the gap through a deal that leverages the Pennsylvania Farm Show complex for $200 million, and puts that money in its own, new special fund.
New Mexico’s governor vetoed a bill that would have increased the registration fee pet food manufacturers pay to the state. The vetoed House Bill 64 would have raised the fee from US$2 to US$100 for each pet food product sold in New Mexico. The revenues from the higher fees would be used to fund dog and cat sterilization programs for low-income residents of the state.
Gov. Kim Reynolds appointed Mike Naig, who had served as Northey’s deputy at IDALS since 2013, to lead the department. The new Iowa secretary of agriculture brings a lifetime of relevant experience to the department’s top job. Naig grew up on a family farm near Cylinder. He helped his father and uncle run their crop and livestock farm and still has involvement in that enterprise.
State lawmakers introduced several bills this year aiming to improve access to health care in rural Georgia. Six rural Georgia hospitals closed since 2013 and the state’s high rate of uninsured means many people in rural communities lack health coverage. The House Rural Development Council, created in 2017 to study the problem, traveled across the state last year find out how rural communities are coping with insufficient broadband connectivity, economic development, health care and other deficiencies. The council’s findings conspicuously omit one big obvious solution, accepting billions of dollars through Medicaid expansion to close the state’s health insurance coverage gap. Still, House Bill 769includes several of the council’s recommendations worth trying to get a handle on Georgia’s health care. The wide-ranging bill proposes a mix of tactics designed to ease the rural health system crisis.
Hemp could be in play as a new crop option for farmers in Illinois if a bill expanding its production passes the General Assembly. Bill Bodine, associate director of state legislation for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said Senate Bill 2298 would allow farmers to begin growing industrial hemp.“It is a bill that the Illinois Farm Bureau supports, though it is not our initiative,” Bodine said. “It would authorize the state Department of Agriculture to license farmers to grow industrial hemp in the state of Illinois.”
Michigan has 3,000 miles of coastline and more Great Lakes water within its jurisdiction than any other state or province in the basin. But one of the big ecological threats to this freshwater system is well outside the state’s borders — in Illinois and Indiana, where invasive species of Asian carp would be most likely to enter the Great Lakes basin, via the Chicago Area Waterway System.Gov. Rick Snyder proposed that all of the Great Lakes states (along with Ontario) collectively pay for that $8 million in operations costs. His idea is for each jurisdiction to pitch in a percentage equal to its share of total Great Lakes surface water (see table). For example, 40.7 percent of the lakes’ surface water is in Michigan; that state would, in turn, provide $3.3 million of the $8 million.
The U.S. Department of Commerce reported that real gross domestic product increased 2.3 percent nationally between 2016 and 2017, but agriculture subtracted from overall economic growth in every state in the Midwest — most notably Iowa, Nebraska and South Dakota. “It’s a big deal in Nebraska when our farmers are hurting,” says Tony Fulton, the state’s tax commissioner and a former state legislator. Last year, Nebraska had to close a nearly $1 billion shortfall for the biennium that began July 1, and lagging tax collections opened an additional $200 million shortfall.States whose agricultural economies are tied more to dairy haven’t had as many highs and lows over the past decade, says Mark Stephenson, an economist with the University of Wisconsin. Still, the dairy industry is clearly facing struggles as well. Federal court data shows the Western District of Wisconsin, which covers more than half the geographic area of the state, had 28 Chapter 12 (family farm) bankruptcy filings in 2017, the highest number in the country. The Eastern District of Wisconsin had 17 cases and the Minnesota District had 19. Farmers are trying various ways to make it through this difficult period — for example, planting more niche and organic crops, accepting wind turbines on their property, relying on off-farm income, or raising chickens or hogs on contract (this latter strategy, though, requires taking out loans of up to $1 million). According to Jay Rempe, an economist for the Nebraska Farm Bureau, a growth in livestock processing also should help stabilize the agriculture sector.
Former Republican State Representative Annette Sweeney of rural Alden officially announced her intention to run for a state senate seat vacated by the sudden resignation of Majority Leader Bill Dix on Wednesday morning, setting up a District 25 special election clash with Democrat Tracy Freese of Dike. Sweeney, a cattle and grain farmer by trade, had been serving as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Director of Rural Development in Iowa for the last four months after President Donald Trump appointed her in November, and she resigned from that position Tuesday afternoon. Since losing a 2012 primary to current State Representative Pat Grassley (R-New Hartford) as a result of redistricting, she felt an itch to return to office someday.
Oklahoma rolled out the red carpet to the growing wind industry two decades ago with the promise of generous state tax incentives and a steady stream of wind sweeping down the Central Plains. But with budget shortfalls that have persisted for several years, lawmakers have already scaled back almost all of the incentives and are now looking to impose a new production tax on the industry.
At a time when farming is making spectacular economic strides in Alaska, the industry is pushing a pair of bills in the Legislature that would reduce the information that can be disclosed to the public about animal and crop diseases and imports. Farmers say they need the bills to prevent unscrupulous competitors from using public records to unfairly learn about their business practices, or to keep animal rights activists from harassing them. The two bills under discussion now, House Bill 315 and Senate Bill 164, are identical and were submitted to the Legislature in January by Gov. Bill Walker. The House version has passed its first committee, the House Judiciary Committee, and is in the House Resources Committee. The Senate version has passed its first committee and would go to the Senate floor for a vote after Giessel’s committee has finished with it.