Lawmakers will sort through the governor's plans over the coming months.

Agriculture among sectors to see cuts, fee hikes in budget plan


Buckeye Farm News 

On the heels of his proposal to prevent a more than $7 billion budget shortfall, Gov. Ted Strickland recently told Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) members that it’s time for the state to toughen up and make wise decisions.

The poor economy led to decreased tax revenue while demand for services increased, Strickland said.

“We’re trying to deal with these harsh realities and it’s forcing us to become a little more creative and a little more focused in how we use the resources available to us,” he said.

Ohio already had to cut nearly $2 billion from the current budget, said OFBF Director of State Policy Beth Vanderkooi, and the economic fallout demands further reductions in 2010-2011. Ohio’s constitution requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget.

“(Policymakers) realized that if we flat fund Ohio’s budget, there was still going to be a $7.3 billion hole,” Vanderkooi said. “In a $52 billion budget, that’s a big hole.”

Despite the need for cuts, the new budget proposal would boost state spending to $54.7 billion in the next biennium.

Strickland has vowed not to raise taxes, although some argue that his plan to increase 120 state fees amounts to a tax hike. Some fees have not been raised in decades, Strickland said, and Ohio’s tipping fee, a charge levied on waste disposal, is significantly lower than surrounding states.

“Why is it financially viable for New York garbage to come to Ohio?” Strickland asked.

Of the proposed fee increases, 24 would occur at the Ohio Department of Agriculture (ODA).

“That’s something that Farm Bureau is going to be monitoring very carefully over the next five months,” Vanderkooi said. “We would encourage against excessive fee increases, but at the same time we still need funding to operate our programs, so it’s a very nuanced consideration.”

Additionally, Strickland outlined the need to cut funds to certain programs and noted that Ohio has more than 3,000 fewer employees than when he took office. His budget also relies heavily on funding from a federal economic stimulus package.

“We’ve tried to do some things that will enable us to get through the short term problems while building for future prosperity,” he said.

A priority for Farm Bureau will be to restore funding that was cut from Ohio State Extension and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, according to Vanderkooi.

“Restoring that money is going to be very vital not just because these are great programs that help us to support agriculture, but they also support education, economic development and job creation,” she said.

Farm Bureau also wants to ensure that Department of Agriculture programs related to the health and safety of the general public will continue to be supported by the general revenue fund, she said.

The Ohio House is holding
hearings on the budget bill and it will be sent to the Senate in the coming weeks.

Prior to the language of the bill being released, Sen. Tom Niehaus, R-New Richmond, told farmers
there was an initial concern about the reliance on one-time money from the federal government.

“Right now we have a structural deficit. We do not have enough revenue coming into the state of Ohio to pay for all the programs that we fund,” he said.

With the help of federal stimulus money, the new budget would represent a 6 percent increase over current spending, Niehaus said. He indicated that may not be sustainable once federal dollars dry up.

“We want to make sure…that we are not setting ourselves up for a massive tax increase in either the CAT tax, the sales tax or the income tax to fund programs that we just cannot afford to pay for,” he said.


Lynn Snyder 

Lynn Snyder is senior director of communications for Ohio Farm Bureau.

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