State Legislative Update
May 31, 2011
The state budget still has a long way to go before it’s a done deal, but many of our priorities have already gone through the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, the committee responsible for making most of the changes to the Governor’s proposed budget. So how did our priorities do?
Let’s start off with the good news: the Buy Local Buy Wisconsin grant program was restored! A huge THANK YOU goes out to everyone who called or wrote their legislators in defense of this exemplary program. Because of you, the Joint Finance Committee recommended restoring $400,000 in grant funds to the program after Governor Walker proposed eliminating it. With a trail of successful projects and a proven track record of economic development, the grant funding was reinstated with overwhelming bipartisan support.
Looking at farmland preservation, here’s the good, the bad and the ugly on the Working Lands Initiative. The good news is that the committee votes to keep the PACE (Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements) program on the books and pay the 16 existing contracts still in limbo from last year. The bad news is that those contracts will be paid through a raid on DNR’s stewardship fund, and the committee didn’t provide any way to fund the PACE program in the future: they didn’t support the conversion fees or the bonding authority. The ugly is that the committee called for an evaluation of the program to see if “a replacement program that would be less costly and more efficient for preserving farmland.” For those of us who understand the importance of farmland preservation, we will need to keep beating the drum so that our elected officials will eventually understand, too.
Finally, no great news for the new Farm to School program. This program was created last year, but no funding has been allocated to the program yet. The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is looking at ways to help connect farmers with this dependable market right in their communities, and Michael Fields is happy to work with the Department and others to help move Farm to School ahead in Wisconsin. At the same time, we are committed to demonstrating to the legislature the economic and health benefits of Farm to School, and we hope in future years legislators will see this is a wise investment of state funding.