The House and Senate recently took their first full votes on 2019-20 funding recommendations for the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD); the chambers approving a 0.9% decrease and 2.3% increase, respectively. Both proposals passed along party lines with strong Republican support: 58-49 in the House and 22-16 in the Senate.
According to Michigan Farm Bureau (MFB) Legislative Counsel Rebecca Park, final budget numbers for all state departments, higher education and school aid budgets could be influenced further by road funding negotiations.
“The state budget will next be reviewed in conference committee by legislative leaders where they’ll work toward an agreement on road funding,” Park said. “From there, they’ll determine if additional changes need to be made within individual department budgets.”
She added that MFB has, and will continue to, work with the legislators to ensure they understand where Farm Bureau members’ priorities fall within the MDARD budget.
“While it feels like we’re in more of a time crunch, the reality is October 1 marks the official start of the 2019-20 fiscal year.”
In reviewing items of interest to MFB, there are significant differences in how the two agriculture budget proposals stack up to Gov. Whitmer’s executive recommendation.
Strongly supported by MFB, Michigan State University and other animal agriculture groups, the Michigan Alliance for Animal Agriculture’s funding future is hopeful, but still uncertain.
“We appreciate the work House and Senate agriculture appropriations subcommittee members have done to understand the importance and economic significance of the alliance,” Park said. “Their proposal not only reinstates the program’s funding from the executive recommendation but also provides an ongoing funding commitment.”
The House is proposing $1 million in annual funding (a $1 million decrease), while the Senate is offering $3 million in annual funding (a $1 million increase).
Related: MSU, Farm Bureau advocate for ag research, outreach funds
The budget also marks the return of the Agriculture Preservation Easement Grant Program, intended to help local units of government purchase permanent easements on farmland—welcome news for farmers and local governments, Park explained.
“Michigan Farm Bureau and county members advocated in 2016 for several improvements to the PA 116 program,” she said. “One of those changes included earmarking any revenue generated by PA 116, that exceeds the program’s administrative costs, to be dedicated to the easement grant program.”
The Governor and Senate propose funding the grant program at $2 million, while the House is recommending slightly less, at $1.9 million.
The Food and Agriculture Investment Program has in recent years helped expand food and agriculture processing initiatives. Of 29 projects approved in 2017-18, the return on investment included 684 new jobs and more than $848 million in private investment.
Gov. Whitmer proposed a $2.6 million reduction to the program’s funding. The Senate is recommending a $1 million reduction while the House recommends no changes and continued funding of $5.1 million annually.
Currently funded at $400,000 annually, the Governor recommended a $200,000 cut to the county fairground grant program. The House is proposing maintaining current funding levels, while the Senate is proposing to increase total annual grant dollars to $1 million.
The Double Up Food Bucks program is aimed at increasing the purchasing power of residents who receive food assistance by providing a dollar-for-dollar match to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at participating grocery stores and farmer’s markets.
With supporters looking to expand the program’s reach statewide, the Governor recommended a $4 million increase, the House proposes a $1 million increase and the Senate offering a $2 million increase.