Part Two: Budget Winners:Thirty-one states are facing budget shortfalls for fiscal 2017. So how have the 19 states with good-looking books managed it? While some of it may be due to factors beyond their control (think California, for example, where its sheer economic size, growing population, and diversity in business make it different than any other state) others have husbanded resources and promulgated policies that have enhanced their ability to cope. We look at those states to see if there are steps that the states with shortfalls can adopt which might help them cope with stagnant economic growth.
regon's economy is growing fast enough to generate nearly $200 million more in tax revenue for the state's next budget than had been expected, state economists said Wednesday. That means the state's $1.8 billion budget shortfall has shrunk to $1.6 billion. Although the new revenue will be welcome in Salem, it still leaves lawmakers with a massive budget hole to address. The gap is driven by rising costs in the state's public pension system and Medicaid, as well as three unfunded directives passed by voters in November. In a presentation at a joint meeting of the House's and Senate's revenue committees on Wednesday, state economist Mark McMullen told lawmakers that the takeaway from the forecast was "so far, so good." Half of the extra $200 million comes from unexpected revenues in the current two-year budget, which will likely be carried over to the 2017-19 budget cycle, McMullen said.
A bill that could pump more than $2 million annually into the fight against noxious weeds in wildlife habitat drew unanimous support from weed managers, wildlife managers and conservation and livestock groups.House Bill 434, known as the Montana Wildlife Habitat Improvement Act and brought by Rep. Kelly Flynn, R-Townsend, creates a new grant program and advisory council administered by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks. Under the act, the Legislature could appropriate up to $2 million to weed control from funding the state receives through the 1937 Pittman-Robertson Act, a federal excise tax on the sale of firearms and ammunition.“What we see is a stealth problem really infringing on wildlife habitat,” Flynn, who has been outspoken about noxious weeds in his four terms as a legislator, told the House Fish, Wildlife and Parks Committee.
Minnesota senators voted 62-0 in favor of the bill Thursday, Feb. 16, following House members' action a week earlier. The legislation does not provide loans for farmers to buy seeds, fertilizer and other things they need in the spring, but it does help them pay mortgages and other major expenses that affect how much money they have available for spring planting. "The Rural Finance Authority is an important program and provides much needed assistance to farmers across our state, but it has run dry," said Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, who sponsored the legislation.
A New York state Assemblywoman has introduced legislation on carbon farming that she says is the first of its kind. The idea is to promote environmentally friendly farming practices while, at the same time, putting money back into the pockets of farmers. Democrat Didi Barrett has sponsored a bill that creates a carbon farming tax credit. Barrett, who represents portions of Columbia and Dutchess Counties, says the plan will give farmers a new tax break while helping the state reach its climate change goals. “This would make New York state the first in the country,” Barrett says. “And I’m very excited about something that really is a win-win for our environment and for our farmers and have New York be the lead on it.”
Two Maryland leaders showed their support for a bill that would move the state’s seafood and aquaculture marketing program to another departmen. Governor Larry Hogan and agriculture secretary Joe Bartenfelder toured the J.M. Clayton crab processing plant in Cambridge in support of House Bill 120, which would move the marketing from the Department of Natural Resources back to the Maryland Department of Agriculture. HB120 will move the program back to the Agriculture Department, where it will join the existing Agriculture Marketing and Development Program.
State Senator Andy Vidak (R-Hanford) has introduced a bill designed to help improve the living conditions of seasonal farmworkers. An affordable housing shortage has forced many farmworker families into unsafe and unhealthy living conditions, according to a news release. "The hardworking folks that help grow the world's food shouldn't have to choose between putting a roof over their family's heads and feeding their children," said Vidak. Many farmers have the land and want to build housing for their seasonal employees, but zoning ordinances often prevent them from doing so. SB 530 solves this problem by allowing owners of agricultural land to build housing for their seasonal employees if they follow health and safety codes, and building safety standards.
A bill that would require country of origin labels on beef is headed to the Senate floor of the South Dakota legislature. The bill, SB 135, passed out of the state Senate Agriculture and National Resources Committee on Feb. 15 after a 5-to-3 vote in favor of the legislation. SB 135 states that all beef and ground beef sold for retail within the state must bear a country of origin label.
The State of Missouri is appealing to the the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a challenge to California's Proposition 2 law, which took effect in 2015. Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, in a press release, stated that he has asked the high court to hear arguments in the state’s challenge to the California law, which requires that eggs produced and sold in the state are laid by hens that have adequate room to stand up, sit down, turn around and extend their limbs without touching another bird or the sides of the cage. Hawley said the law imposes onerous new regulations on Missouri poultry farmers and would drive up the cost of eggs for Missouri consumers. “These regulations are unconstitutional,” Hawley said. “They will cost Missouri farmers tens of millions of dollars. They will cost Missouri families. And they will cost our state jobs.” Alabama, Iowa, Kentucky, Nebraska and Oklahoma are joining Hawley’s appeal.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s proposal to let power cooperatives get into the broadband business looks like an improvement for Tennessee consumers. But, in my view, the proposal is mostly a bait and switch. The plan, which the governor announced at a press conference last month, maintains strict limitations on the ability of public entities to improve their citizens’ broadband options. And it provides a $45 million subsidy that will go mostly to the same for-profit telephone and cable companies that are already doing a poor job of reaching all Tennesseans with affordable, quality broadband. In 2010, the state Legislature put significant restrictions on both municipalities’ and co-ops’ ability to provide broadband. Jurisdictions that manage their own public utilities can provide broadband only within their service areas, and that’s only if they survive a series of legal and reporting hoops. Despite these roadblocks, several municipal utilities have successfully started providing broadband service in Tennessee. Chattanooga is the best known network, but six others are also in operation. Several legislators, including State Senator Janice Bowling (R- Tullahoma) and State Representative Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland), have tried to repeal the law. Eight repeal bills were introduced in one legislative session alone. In 2016, legislators and constituents put up such a cry that it repeal seemed imminent. However, legislators influenced by large incumbent communications corporations played one last card, which was to hire a consulting firm to study the issue, thus giving incumbents another year to stall.