(Host) Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees are questioning the Douglas Administration’s commitment to farmers.
The lawmakers complain that the administration’s budget is inadequate, and doesn’t reflect the governor’s own agricultural priorities.
Douglas says he’s trying to hold the line on spending and on raising new taxes.
VPR’s John Dillon reports:
(Dillon) The Douglas Administration essentially wants to level-fund state agriculture programs next year.
According to leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committee, the budget leaves out some of the governor’s own priorities.
(Zuckerman) “The governor’s funding level does not match his rhetoric with respect to supporting farming in Vermont. It’s that simple.”
(Dillon) David Zuckerman is a Progressive from Burlington who chairs the House Agriculture Committee.
(Zuckerman) “He even did not fund priorities from his own dairy task force. One instance, in particular, is a small position to help small farms, typically, to transition to organic agriculture, one of the four or five main task force recommendations. He could not find it his own a budget of $3.5 billion dollars to support keeping some of those farmers on the land in a profitable way.”
(Dillon) Orleans Senator Bobby Starr is vice chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. He says that over his 28-year career, the Vermont legislature has consistently stepped in to help farmers, including passing the Dairy Compact in the 1980s.
But Starr complains that key programs are not being fully funded by Douglas Administration. He points to an innovative farm education scholarship called “Two plus Two” that allows future farmers to attend two years at Vermont Technical College and two years at the University of Vermont.
(Starr) “The governor runs around touting his new scholarship program of $100-some odd million and at the same time cutting the Two Plus Two program by 30%.”
(Dillon) But Douglas says he’s firmly committed to agriculture. He says that under his leadership, for example the Agriculture Department was elevated to a cabinet level state agency.
But he says he can’t pay for everything on the agriculture wish list.
(Douglas) “Every time I turn around somebody in this building has an idea on how to raise taxes. I suppose if we raise every tax, we can fund everything at a maximum level to meet everybody’s wish.”
(Dillon) But the leaders of the Agriculture Committees say their request is for up to a million dollars more in state spending, not a tax increase.
One program they’d like to spend more on would help farmers clean up streams. Another would encourage schools to use more locally grown products.
For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.