Governor's budget proposal has impact on DATCP
Several of the state's well-known grant programs will not have funding under the budget proposed by Gov. Scott Walker last week.
The highly regarded Agricultural Development and Diversification (ADD) program, the relatively new "Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin" program, and the Grazing Lands Conservation Initiative were not included in the governor's budget.
Wisconsin Farmers Union leaders said they would urge the legislature to prioritize these excellent programs in the biennial budget. The ADD program, they said, generates $19 in economic activity for every dollar of state investment.
A day after Walker gave his budget address, Secretary Ben Brancel invited farm organization leaders to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection headquarters in Madison to talk about how the budget process would impact his agency.
In the past the agency would have put in a budget request that included the last year's budget and some add-ons, he said.
But in the last two-year budget, portions of the agency budget were "lapsed" meaning that money that was already promised to the agency had to be pulled back.
That's where $1.7 million in requests were not even made for the coming budget cycle, Brancel explained. The cuts included the grant programs, staffing grants, support for World Dairy Expo and other areas.
Once that amount of money was lapsed from his agency budget, Brancel said, "our ability to ask for those kinds of requests was gone."
Walker proposed one new grant program - $200,000 in general purpose funding (GPR) for a Dairy Processor Grant Program at the department to provide technical services to dairy processors.
When the Dairy 2020 program was transferred to DATCP with the challenge to re-invigorate the program, processors asked for a similar program to help them make adjustments to their business and face challenges, Brancel said.
FUNDING FOR WLIC
Brancel said he was worried about funding for the Wisconsin Livestock Identification Consortium (WLIC), the private entity that takes care of livestock premises registration functions for the state. Without funding the WLIC would no longer be able to operate.
It was bolstered last budget cycle by funding from DATCP, but this year the funding is coming directly from the budget to fund that program at the rate of $250,000.
Brancel explained that the Agricultural Chemical Cleanup Program's fund was originally created to clean up spills of agricultural chemicals, but often built up a surplus of funds because money coming in, from charges farmers pay on these chemicals, surpassed the cost of cleanup projects.
As this fund built up, state government several times had dipped into it and used that money for other general fund programs. Sometimes it was used for ag-related programs and sometimes it wasn't.
In some budgets lawmakers decided to alter the fees so the fund wouldn't build up and become such a tempting target for fee raids.
Brancel said this time around there will be no fee adjustments and the program's fund will still be used to fund animal health inspectors.
There will also be no fee adjustments in the Agricultural Chemical Management fund, a broader fund that also includes fees on household chemicals.
Best estimates tell DATCP what will be collected and spent in these two programs, Brancel said. "It will be less stirred up than it used to be with more of a true picture of where it is going."
Under the proposed budget Discovery Farms programs would be funded by the ACM fund to align fund revenues with intended purposes, Brancel said.
One change that DATCP did not seek but got in the governor's budget proposal was an effort to streamline government by merging the weights and measures inspections of the Trade and Consumer Protection division with state officials that ensure the quality of motor vehicle fuels and fuel tank inspections.
Walker has proposed transferring the Tank and Petroleum testing program from the Department of Safety and Professional Services to DATCP where it will merge with the inspectors who look at fuel pumps to make sure they are discharging the gallons they say they are.
This change would transfer 40 full-time employees to DATCP along with funding of $5.5 million in 2014 and $5.3 million in 2015 to the department. That change would also come with one-time funding to get the transferring and merging of these two staffing groups accomplished.
Brancel said his staff has already visited Minnesota where they reviewed equipment that is used there in a similar program.
Brancel also touched on a policy provision that was included in the governor's budget package. Walker recommends repealing the decades-old law that prohibits non-resident aliens and corporations from owning more than 640 acres of land.
Mining and forestry entities have been interested in changing this state law and the governor felt Wisconsin was out of step with international treaties, Brancel said.
"A lot of people contact us about this all the time," he said.